Seeing With Your Hands: Eric Siu's Optical Handlers

Eric Siu, a Hong Kong-based new media artist currently enrolled in a residency program at the Ishikawa Komuro Laboratory at the University of Tokyo, develops optical devices that extend and manipulate human vision.

His body of work, ranging from video to interactive installations and kinetic sculptures, explores media from a raw and primitive perspective. By creating interesting spectacles, he alters human perception and experience. Eric’s work always blurs the boundaries between high and low culture, and at the same time, provides laughter and amusement that inspires critical thinking.

Since 2003, Eric has been developing Optical Handlers, a device that restructures binocular vision and enables our eyes to see separately. The core concept works against the natural seeing experience that results from binocular vision, that is, two images merging into one on our mind-screen due to our eyes existence on the same horizontal plane. The device creates an experience in which the human user sees two separate images at the same time without the natural process of combining them. The imagery that both the left and right eye capture is retained separately. The Optical Handlers are fabricated from a special pair of binoculars, like goggles, with two mini-LCD monitors in place of the lens, each attached to a mini video camera. However, the cameras are not in a fixed position or direction. They are attached to the user`s wrists, which makes them mobile and able to move in any direction.

The device frees the eyes from being imprisoned in their fixed positions. The mobility of the hands, thus the cameras, separate the vision of the two eyes. Another key element of this project is that the user has to learn to cope with the two simultaneous, distinct visions that separate the act of seeing from the user’s physical position. According to the artist, Optical Handlers are a “highly unique learning and discovering process, so personalized that it cannot be generalized in writing”.

Though this transformation occurs at a superficial level, our deep perceptive level is not transformed. The device allows the user to have distinct and independent points of view for each eye, which creates a hybrid spatial experience, but the brain functions as usual to combine the images from both eyes.

In the latest version of this project entitled Eeyee, the device makes use of the overlapping function of the brain to eventually generate a pair of stereoscope visions. The updated device consists of four LCDs, arranged in pairs, and placed side-by-side in the front of the right and left eye separately, utilizing four stereoscopic cameras instead of two. The screens are perfectly aligned in a binocular distance so that your brain will overlap four images into two. As the users see two “reasonable” images, they are able to observe the space in a more rational way and able to easily position themselves in the space.

Both of these prototypes have shown us that however the experience is mediated, perception and sight are still being transformed in sensational ways.

Photos courtesy of Eric Siu