Gestalt Circle

“When principles of design replicate principles of thought the act of arranging information becomes an act of insight.” (Edward R. Tufte 1997)



We showed this 3rd experiment; Gestalt Circle to about 1500 visitors at the Kinetica Art Fair 2012 in London UK.

Gestalt Circle is an experimental research project and artwork that forms part of the Diasynchronoscope project designed to explore notions of directed attention in an audience unmediated by screen.

It is essentially diachronic (the study of a phenomenon as it changes through time) and evokes the early animation simulators such as the phenakistoscope and the zoetrope direct ancestors of the piece acting both as art object and experimental media. In the Gestalt Circle time is translated to space as arranged 3D objects are animated purely through projected light: Although nothing in the room actually moves the objects are revealed through serial illumination in the dark chamber sequenced using the technique of projection mapping.

The Circle is an architectural extension of Gestalt founder Max Wertheimer’s experiments in phi and beta movement and demonstrates a new embodied media experience that suppresses cultural and contextual content in favor of pure movement.

NB: It is important to remember when viewing this film that the original artwork is screen-less and that this is fundamental to the qualia of experience. By filming the piece and showing it online once again we are allowing a screen to mediate audience perception so what you see here is less of an art experience and more an explanatory film that describes the experimental process.

Gestalt Circle is a meditation on animating through selective attention.

There is no screen and no actual movement occurs in the chamber. Instead real three-dimensional objects (polystyrene cups) are placed in the scene and then lit selectively and sequentially by white light from a projector. The cups have been arranged by translating motion in time to position in space. When a cup is lit we cannot help but give it attention. When the cups are lit sequentially; we cannot help but perceive movement. This is because our brains are geared towards perceiving movement so it fills in the gaps. In Gestalt Circle the brain fills in the gaps in two ways; as beta and phi movement. Beta movement is where the eye attends to a cup travelling in a smooth arc. This is exactly the principle of Gestalt continuity that governs the way we perceive animation and film running at 24 fps as moving pictures.  Phi movement is where the attention is drawn not to a cup but the gap between the cups. Because this is object-less perception of movement it was dubbed pure movement by Wertheimer although it is far from context-less as although the object of attention is not-an-object the gap is contextualised by the surrounding objects (in this case cups).

You can identify phi movement by the clicking sound that accompanies it in the video. Here you are following not-a-cup or the gap between cups in phi movement. Although the two ways of perceiving movement May appear superficially similar the two states of perceiving movement are physiologically distinct; we  cannot follow/attend to a cup and follow/attend to not-a-acup at the same time so like the necker cube we are caught in a multistable perception of movement.  Multistable perception is the tendency of ambiguous perceptual experiences to pop back and forth unstably between two or more alternative interpretations. The artwork highlights the perceptual transitions made by the brain as it travels from phi to beta and back again an illusion dubbed multistable perception.

One major difference in perceiving phi movement is that it is experienced as a sequence of stills rather than as a continuous moving image – the cups appear to make staccato leaps  across a gap rather than travel smoothly. This is consistent with Wertheimers published monograph on apparent motion in 191 and Steinmans re-examination of the phenomena published in 2000.

Max Wertheimers 191 monograph: Experimentelle Studien uber das Sehen von Bewegung. Zeitschrift fur Psychologie 61 161-265

Paper published in Vision Research 2000;40(17):2257-64.

Phi is not beta and why Wertheimers discovery launched the Gestalt revolution.

Robert M Steinman Pizlo Zygmunt and Filip J Pizlo

Department of Psychology University of Maryland College Park MD 2074-4411 USA





Behind the Gestalt Circle

The Technology behind Gestalt Circle

Although Gestalt Circle explores some old techniques in apparent movement and appears quite low tech it would be a difficult artwork to achieve without using three softwares: Autodesks 3ds Max and Adobess Photoshop and After Effects programmes. 3DS Max was used to visualise the work before we built it and then Photoshop was used to plan the sequential animation and for mapping the projection. Finally the selective masks created in photoshop were sequenced into a movie to run through the projector with synchromised sound in After Effects.


Bruno reveals the very first bounce live to the camera with typical gallic understatement…