by Dilpreet BhullarJul 14, 2021
The onion and its layers of peels as a popular metaphor are unlikely to be unknown to many. Creating a visual representation of the intricate pattern of the insides of the onion, of course not literally but symbolically, is the work Onion Skin by the French visual artist Olivier Ratsi. The artist is known for playing with the visual perception of reality through his art practice. The works by Ratsi, who is also a co-founder of the visual label named ANTIvj, deconstructs physical reality only to reconfigure it for viewers as an exercise to experience a novel arrangement. The shift in perspective opens a new layer to let the audience see the unseen - reveal the presence that had remained buried.
Talking to STIR about the project Onion Skin, Ratsi says, “the projection canvas and the visual content form an inseparable entity. In order to do this, I decided not to project on a flat screen but rather on a module of two walls placed at right angles. Then the visual content is created from the vanishing points based on the rules of perspective.” It is the position of the viewers that let them experience the new layer of the installation through its immersive maze of projected light. The geometrical patterns such as lines, triangles, and squares projected onto the walls unravel its layers. He explains, the visual content as linear and repetitive is akin to the phenomenon of ‘peeling’, which “is a reference to the outer layers of certain vegetables, revealed to the viewer through anamorphosis of a new space. Hidden behind the first outer layer, the infinite number of layers reflects the idea that behind the visible, real world, there are other aspects, a new dimension, imperceptible at first glance". The music score by Thomas Vaquié is based on the flow of the ‘peelings’. “The shape, speed, appearance, interaction, decomposition on the line of sight/perspective axis of each ‘peeling’ contribute to an original soundtrack that reinforces this impression of volume and space.”
The conspicuous presence of lights in the works accentuates the conceptual idea - the perception of space and experience of reality - underlining the work. Ratsi declares, “Light is at the same time the subject of my work and a means of creation because it carries the information that allows us to access our environment. Digital tools allow me to develop my work, using the properties of light in a different way.” He further cites the example of his works to give a peek into the ways he puts lights into use, “In the site-specific project DELTA, the projection straddles a number of walls, using the corners. To make this I also use the anamorphosis technique; my pieces are often based on the position of the spectator, predetermined by myself, from which the viewers will be able to visually reconstitute another space. In Parallel, the water is used as a mirror; the suspended light looks parallel in space when the spectator is positioned on the point of view, but it's not the same with the reflection. It is in fact the reflection of the tubes that reflects a different image of reality.”
Besides creating mammoth-sized immersive installations with lights, Ratsi has created a series of photographic artworks through the research-based concept of anarchitecture to articulate his interest in perception and reality. These works were showcased as part of the series WYSI*not*WYG (What You See Is Not What You Get) which gave an oblique view of the urban landscape. The series aims to visually translate Ratsi ideas about built environment, “Architecture delimits space and creates borders, obstacles, forms, volumes, whereas at the base, space is infinite; questioning space cannot be done by ignoring the architectural aspect, so, in my work I try to create a dialogue between architectural space, work and the viewer. This dialogue aims to question references to the perception of space.” The suspended unstructured blocks at the top of the buildings or the fractured iron bridge in the middle of the greens of the developing urban landscape of the photographs lead up to a fantastical world to make the audience ponder upon the surroundings beyond the frame of the photographs.
For most of the works by Ratsi, the immersive component is pertinent to understand the work in its entirety without which the intended meaning may not be fully communicated to the viewers. Taking a step forward, the artist is keen to chart down two more ways of building interactions with works, “By placing himself (viewer) on the point of view of the anamorphosis, by superimposing himself on my point of view, the spectator can try to imagine what allowed me to build the work, in this case, precise geometrical rules that are not accessible from other points of view. Moreover, the surprise effect of anamorphosis here tests the spectator’s ability to deconstruct or even reconstruct what he perceives, in order to better ask him, ‘What do you really see? Is it consistent with what you think you see?’”
Often, the works created by Ratsi could be mistaken as decorative pieces, an extension of, as he says, “plastic approach rather than conceptual". But pushing aside these apprehensions to the corner, the works aptly bespeak what he wants them to, “trigger off an impression, an emotion, which would question any reference to everyday life”