When you first encounter a Felice Varini installation, the world might seem to flatten. Shapes are suspended in air, floating impossibly in space. Move sideways, though, and you find yourself faced with the lines and patterns that make the illusion possible.

Varini is a Swiss artist whose work deconstructs perspective. To glance at his paintings from one position might suggest that you’re looking at the finished work. But pleasure comes from navigating ourselves around his geometric forms. As we move, the simplest vision of the image disintegrates. Points that had connected float free, revealing a complex relationship with the space around them.

It’s a startling metaphor for the value of new perspectives, one that speaks, inherently, to the innovation that’s born when we shift away from a fixed point of view.

Felice Varini, “Deux cercles concentriques dans le couloir, rouge no. 1” (1992).
The image on the left is from the vantage point; the image to the right
is the same piece viewed from another position. (Photo courtesy of the artist).

Two Circles

Consider Varini’s work, “Two Circles In Corridor, Red No. 1,” a 1992 piece created in Paris. It appears as two red circles in a white hallway. Shift your position in any direction, and the spheres warp, extend across walls, and undulate over pillars.

For Varini, this is where the work lives. When a viewer stands and observes two lovely red circles, they privilege a single position. But the shape, in that space, is formed from a more complex geometry. Shift a bit, and it’s all revealed. The lines from these other perspectives aren’t warped, just revealed as the pieces that form the “privileged” shape in whatever environment we find it.

A pleasure of these pieces comes from observing how these spaces modulate an otherwise simple form. The work plays with how we perceive space, but also, critically, how we might imagine it.

If you can’t find a solution, step sideways

The ability to shift between perspectives is essential for problem solving. If you can’t see a solution, move. Tina Seelig, director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, described the power of this idea in her book, InGenius.

Seelig explains that we tend to see the world through frames of experiences, frames we may not even recognize are there.

“In most cases, we don’t even consider the frames,” she writes. “We just assume we are looking at the world with the proper set of lenses. However, being able to question and shift your frame of reference is an important key to enhancing your imagination, because it reveals completely different insights.”

Just as a circle is not a circle, shifts can reveal new possibilities in any venture: a restaurant doesn’t have to be a restaurant. Imagine, after all, if we all looked at televisions, telephones, cars, or medicine 20 years ago and decided there was no place left for them to go?

See your work through someone else’s eyes

For a small presentation to swissnex, Varini showed us the images that come in through instagram under the hashtag #varini. He told he us he appreciated Instagram for the collection of unique vantage points – “a reflection of the viewer’s eye.” The assemblage from the hashtag adds another layer of deconstruction to the work’s privileged viewing position, presenting an incredible array of unique views.

This is a critical lesson in design. If the audience can’t see your vision, try seeing it from where they stand. Varini’s showed us how his work adapts itself into architecture, rooms, natural and urban landscapes. Every space includes a series of data points to interpolate into the final piece: “Architecture can be read, and worked with,” Varini said.

Which fits another lesson from Seelig’s book: the power of asking questions.

“Students are taught how to uncover these needs by observing, listening, and interviewing, and then pulling their insights together to paint a detailed picture from each user’s point of view.”

She describes a simple exercise where students are asked to build a bridge – and as they ask why, they discover they don’t need a bridge at all. Focus on what your users see, respect it, and align your position to theirs. The results may surprise you.

The value of new perspectives

It may be an all-too-human habit to explore the world from a single position. From inside of our heads, we’re tempted to twist ideas to fit what we know. Varini’s work is a powerful visualization of new possibilities. A shift of perspective can reveal complexity where simplicity once defined our vision. It opens up new spaces for understanding and communication.

Varini came to Swissnex to present a small talk this week, with support from Ars Citizen, the Exploratorium, and the Consulate General of Switzerland. He will also present his work to students for a closed workshop at the San Francisco Art Institute.

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Featured image: Felice Varini work, “Twelve discs over sixteen hollowed halves and four quarters” (2013). Progressive Collection, Cleveland. Photographer: Carl Fowler. Courtesy of the artist.