Reverse perspective

 Reverse Perspective

Name educator: Dr. Volkmar Mühleis, philosopher, Wim Goes, architect

Name partner organisation: LUCA School of Arts/University of Leuven, Faculty of Architecture

What is the seminar/elective about?

‘Reverse Perspective’ is focused on research regarding depth and perspective in art and architecture. With a group of master students from fine arts, design and architecture Volkmar Mühleis and Wim Goes started this research in 2014/2015 during their joint master-seminar/elective Art & Architecture at LUCA School of Arts, campus Ghent/University of Leuven, Faculty of Architecture. The research question is: how to deal with Reverse Perspective today? The relevance of this project lies in the subject of depth and how in the arts and architecture the paradigm of linear perspective – to represent depth – can further be questioned, in favour of alternative methods to evoke depth. Traditionally, Reverse Perspective alternates its linear precedent. It was used in Byzantine icons as well as in cubism as in contemporary art (by David Hockney and others). Beside the art world, Reverse Perspective is less featured in architecture. Via interdisciplinary research on this subject by artists and architects, we intend to offer new experiences of depth and methods to implement a various layered thinking on possible perspectives.

The seminar/elective in relation to REFLECT:

The research question of REFLECT is: how do we become better facilitators of the reflective process? Regarding this case-study I would like to give some suggestions that first might help to facilitate the conceptualization of the research and second give an example of how we possibly become better facilitators of the so-called reflective process itself.

First some remarks on the notion of reflection. How do we experience reflection? Due to responsive phenomenology how it was shaped by Bernhard Waldenfels[1] a crucial moment in the genealogy of experience is when affection happens. This happening provokes a living being to be affected, in delay to this event.

The impression of affection might stimulate the longing for responding to the feeling of being affected. This instinct or longing is now the stimulus to contrast the indirect experience of being affected with bodily possible ways of dealing with it – by responding to it, by trying to ignore or to integrate it in comparison to already incorporated faculties like the body scheme (the kinesthetic mastering of the own body), emotional habits or language. These schemes, rhythms, habits or lingual, semiotic structures are widely cultivated and have their pre-individual histories in communities, societies. Consciousness for example is in the West very much linked to the development of the notion of the I, that children start to use on their own from mostly about ca. two years old, when also their long-term memory starts its life-long practice (interesting enough we start to remember images from this period of lingual competence on).

The notion of reflection means a re-flection to the I, to allow the mental incorporation of recognition, or even – in philosophical ways – the thinking of this process itself. So reflection comes into play, in trying to make something thinkable on the level of consciousness and the lingual, commonly shared grammar of the I in Greek and Latin traditions. It might be bodily, in a personal way, being stimulated or provoked, but in itself it is just partially personal – it asks for histories of meaning, given by designs of concepts, in words, images, sounds, etc., and it operates in terms of consciousness via the active first person.

The first person is yet possible thanks to being affected, by other persons, things or objects. The first person can get stuck by a positively overwhelming affection or a negatively traumatizing one. Then the question starts, how to facilitate the possibility at least to respond again to affection. This can be in both ways a therapeutic question (if you think of manic-depressive people) or more in one way than the other. It can be a question for the personal process to generate expression, at least of the longing to find the will to articulate oneself individually.

Articulation always takes place in a context, a world. The philosopher Bernard Stiegler reminds us that interiority is an orientation towards an exteriority that is opened up via our body and its instrumental and medial qualities: thanks to our hands we handle objects that help us to operate with its possibilities within the world.[2] So neither reflection nor ‘inner readiness’ can be focused on the person itself, but has to be unfold in between how affection provokes psychic longing, passion in contrast with individual ways to incorporate itself regarding the other, in a situation where the person responds via its body and bodily tools, behaviours, media to a world that allows to deepen out interiority via external openings, perspectives, as well in a social sense as well in one facing the world and its nature.

In this sense the case-study on ‘Reverse Perspective’ that I will present has to be seen in quite a different way than a mainly psychological one, as it seems to be suggested via the research program of RESPECT according to the group session that took place in Tuscany in September 2015. ‘Interiority’, the sphere of ‘inner readiness’, is a bodily carried space of resonance within the perceived physical world, balanced in individual movements throughout the own orientation towards the external, other or alien, mediated by the body, tools, objects, artefacts, instruments, up to imaginary, symbolic, grammatical, semiotic and logical orders that help to establish a common ‘mentality’, a public space.

‘Inner readiness’ might be one aspect of this complexity, regarding a growing dumb of longings for articulation. Can reflection help in the process to open up this dumbness? Yes, if it helps to stimulate the whole process of being affected, longing for responses and finding ways of articulation. Therefore it should not be focused just on the interiority of the person, but on alternating stimulating affections, in differentiating a broader spectrum of passion and in accentuating alternative manners of articulation. ‘Inner readiness’ is about an opening to the world, not about a ‘key’ in the person itself. One might say: the key to the inside lies in the outside.

That is what examples of Reverse Perspective are telling us, too. In Reverse Perspective the focal point is not lying behind the object that is represented, so that one gets the illusion of endless depth, but the focal point is placed between the spectator and the object, so the representation of the object seems to strive towards the viewer, but as an illusion just if he or she moves, as the lines do not present a coherent illusion like in a linear perspective. In comparison with the last one, Reverse Perspective activates the viewer, as he or she has to move. In responding to the image, the object, we are activated to take initiatives.

So, what do we want to learn during the following months, with which kind of method?

In a phenomenological sense we will describe the process of the seminar/elective. Wim Goes will take drawings of the sessions, I will report on them. Our only aim for evaluation is: that the students change our experience of Reverse Perspective, and therefore our thinking of it. By designing their experiments the students shape their own context for evaluation. We only focus on the critical consequence they establish in making their decisions. They can fail – and getting all their credits. If they search consequently, with wit, passion and a sharp view for every detail and meaning. In the arts and architecture we are perfectionists of the imperfect. And we believe in the liberating ethics of it, that the medium helps us to take the next step. As a football that allows the kids to experience themselves as football-players, artworks or advanced architecture transcends functionalism and makes people dream. We have conscious dreams that we can reflect on, and unconscious dreams that steer us, wherever our imagination, passion and body lead us, being affected throughout daily life. The research on the resonance of depth highlights activity from being stimulated by passion and pathos/passivity; reflection from being provoked by alienation and the longing to respond; the I as an answer to the other and the me; consciousness as coming from unconsciousness and even matter; and so on. This is our horizon for a journey with the students that they have in their very own hands. We will follow.


Date(s) of the testing project:

Dates and notes of the sessions:

25 September (like every session, from 9 am to 12 pm):

During the first session we presented the concept of our seminar/elective to the group. The teachers and students talked about their personal backgrounds and expectations regarding the course. One interest is reflecting on the relations of fine art, design and architecture, as there are students from all of the three disciplines in the class. Another motivation arrives from frustrations in terms of a very much formalized curriculum and way of teaching. The collaboration of an architect and a philosopher seems to be surprising and promising for some students, in search for ‘something different’. A further interest – and like the one before, I think this is very much linked to the question of REFLECT – refers on the need for ‘owning up’. Remembering the group activities in Tuscany I thought before the lesson to introduce the subject ‘Reverse Perspective’ in the sense, that everyone who presented himself to the group and talked about his or her expectations should take a picture of the others, with a photo-camera I had with me. But I doubted the idea, in putting a machine between us that might disturb the fragile first connections of trust and openness. So we just talked, for three hours, taking a short pause in between.

2 October

Regarding the notion of perspective, we discussed the question of relation and how we perceive relations, imagine relations and think in terms of ‘relation’. Therefore I introduced a comparison of ancient Chinese thinking in polarities with the traditional Western idea of relations between two autonomous entities, relations that ask for external viewpoints to describe them (‘dialectics’).[3] Students immediately drew possible relations and thought of relations via lines and dots. But, I asked, why starting with lines and dots as instruments of representation? The students suggested then the following examples of possible relations: formally via columns (like in the Vatican), in social terms, in the loss of relational orientation like in the desert, the darkness, the experience of the void (‘ocean’), in terms of scale (‘the body as a scale for special experience’, as with the architect Le Corbusier), regarding time as movement. Then the question arouse how smell or acoustics should be understood relationally, because of their also atmospheric, holistic character. Wim Goes introduced further on the notions of ‘choice’ and ‘reference’ as marking points for the discussion, which led to the question if the ‘whole’ can be any criterion for the conception of relations (the ‘whole’ again referring to atmospheres like in the experience of smell or acoustics). In this spectrum we opened the field for our research on alternative ways to deal with perspective as such and reverse perspective in special. In short: how is depth experienced and generated – as a polarity within an atmosphere, a whole (the ancient Chinese way), or as a relational orientation towards something, like movement in time for example (Western tradition)? For the following week we asked the students to present their first ideas how they want to deal with reverse perspective in a practical way.


9 October

Wim started the session with a presentation of one of his own projects, a flagship store for fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto in 2007 in Antwerp. The space was asymmetrical and demanded a profound reflection on its perspectival conditions (asymmetrical like a small turned Y at the entrance followed by a huge Y as a large divided space in the back). Wim introduced the students to different layers to deal with perspective under such conditions. First, the columns defined straight lines in the room. Wim counterbalanced them with hanging sticks for the clothes, hanging at them open in the space. Second, he used the tops of the columns to install indirect light (like shining capitals), which again were counterbalanced by the dark clothes of Yamamoto (he himself said to Wim: ‘you bring in the light, I bring the shadow’, a remark that reminded Wim of the essay In Praise of the Shadow by Japanese writer Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, a book that he warmly suggested to the students). Third, and here Wim explicitly used the term ‘self awareness’, he talked about the relation of space and sound, and how he installed a sound design in the shop that diminished echoing the deeper one got into the room, so that the person would feel more comfortable and at ease (like in an  old library, where the books absorb the sound, but now, paradoxically, in a white, open space). So with the depth, the sound vanished successively. This meant for the presentation, that the images could not represent these very important elements of the experience of the space and therefore its quality in terms of design and architecture. The experience of this self awareness itself is not representable (a lesson already familiar to Plato, who discussed in his dialogue Menon the question how to introduce someone to an idea he does not get, and the answer is: via a relevant experience that motivates this idea).

After the pause, three students presented their first starting points regarding reverse perspective: one brought a picture of an artificial atmosphere in a museum, done by Olafur Eliasson, with him, as a suggestion to blur perspective as such; another one presented the optical illusions of reverse perspective done by Patrick Hughes; and a third one presented two children drawings – he had asked the children to draw the sky, and he thought they would draw blue lines on the top, leave nothing in between and then draw lines for the ground. But what did they do? They started with figures in the sky – an airplane, clouds. So we discussed the relational possibility of complementarity – how a foreground suggests a background, like in Gestalt Psychology. And that we can never turn this relation, between figure and fond, fore and back. So, the optical illusions of Hughes are based on geometry and all its figurative possibilities. There you can play with. But the complementarity of figure and fond, foreground and background cannot be reversed. And I suggest that complementarity stimulates representational models like logical, geometrical, grammatical ones, etc. (see the introduction of phenomenology in the beginning of this report). But we will see, how the students will develop their ideas and generate their own perspectival projects!


16 October

Today we saw the movie Stalker (1979) of Andrei Tarkowski, introduced by architect Johannes Berry (South Africa). Johannes emphasized compositional arrangements in the setting that resembles Reverse Perspective, the sometimes asymmetrical montage of sound and image and the use of slowing down time during whole sequences. Tarkowski presents the questioning of dialectic, straight, direct, modern, materialistic, positivist thinking in relation to iconic, indirect, non-rational longing for the perpetual different, metaphorically called the ‘zone’. This ‘zone’ resembles a void, a void that responds to the need of what emptiness also in individual terms might mean. It is about ‘emptying up’, much more than ‘owning up’. After the presentation a student said to Wim: “The film reminded me of your way of teaching.” We did not have time to discuss this long movie immediately, so I am very curious what the reactions of the students will be back next week!


23 October

Today we discussed the impressions the students had by watching Stalker. Indirect strategies of camera-movements were analyzed, the theatre-like staging of the set-up, techniques of scale (the sand in the bunker), etc. In general the relation of illusion and reverse perspective came up, together with questioning the relation of technique and form. The figure of Stalker himself was seen as a metaphor of the artist, the same time, I suggested, we have to ask ourselves if the artists are comparable to the stalker, because the stalker lives his need for the zone, he is not a filmmaker presenting him (like Tarkowski did, titled as ‘the artist’ in the end credits), he is the figure of someone real. The zone seems to symbolize a void, for people with the need for the empty, for ‘emptying up’ in place of ‘owning up’ (like the writer and the scientist/philosopher). So Tarkowski used rational techniques and the illusion of realism in cinema to emphasize the opposite, combined via the number three of as well rational dialectics, understanding and geometry as well of the mystic trinity in Christianity, referring also to orthodox icons (like in the final scene, the child as a Madonna behind a table, where three glasses were changed in their positions to each other, without touch – via vibrations?).

In the second half of our session some students presented their ideas for their own projects. Coming from painting, a student would try to do research on spatial collages, changing the perspectives; another student, from graphic design, showed his first studies on optical illusions of framing, in reference to puzzling images; another one offered the question of symbolism in architecture, referring then to Aldo Rossi, but also the labyrinth in terms of a possible reverse perspective. Further on, a student was experimenting with images of the movie Stalker, to change the time mode in the sequences. Next week we will split the group in two, and Wim and I will concentrate separately on each group, so that everyone has the opportunity to come up with his or her ideas. Like this, we move on, from general discussions and presentations, now to a more individual development of the different projects the students will make.


30 October

This morning the students presented their ideas for individual projects on Reverse Perspective. Besides items like hierarchy, transparency and techniques to mirror yourself (also via the ‘selfie’ or other uses of the camera), the question of even eating the other ones perspective came up, in comparison to cannibalism. What does it mean to incorporate ‘otherness’? And, in return and in general: how can the other survive as the other, in respect of ‘otherness’? There were also experiments with layering drawings, suggestions of images by Byzantine icons, David Hockney or self-taken pictures, with a very good example of a representation of three portraits in a gallery, hanging on walls without any other context than light and shadow, so the relation of fore- and background between these walls became unclear. We look forward to the following presentations!


13 November

We continued with presentations of first drafts of the students’ projects. One student featured the question of how geometrical choreographies like the one of dancer Anne-Theresa De Keersmaeker might be linked to Reverse Perspective, regarding her experiment of showing these choreographies in exhibition space Wiels in Brussels as art performances that also made the public move, indirectly, by avoiding the dancers, giving them space. Another student referred to a scene of the movie La Haine (1995) by Mathieu Kassovitz, where the visual focus on the foreground was contrasted with the audio-focus on the background (I suggested to her the studies of Michel Chion, on audio-division). Further on, a student explored the contrasts in music, between dramatic content and joyful form in melodies, for example. As a musician, she wanted to work on these kind of differences and their relations (in reverse). Another student put the question of the path, and how the experience of it might be representable via perspectives. Then a student presented optical illusions in painting from the Renaissance up till Salvador Dali, which led to the question in which sense Reverse Perspective can be more than just an illusionary effect, comparable to the discussion we had on 9 October. A further student reminded us of the importance of touch for every visual perception and questioned the traditional hierarchy between sight and touch in the West. Wim responded to the notion of hierarchy as a key-element in the reflection of perspectives. In the end a student, who started working on the idea of the labyrinth, a labyrinth of textiles, with transparent walls, put a model on the table that he made out of fixed textiles, turned upside down from hanging to now standing. It was a nice metaphor for the next step: creating!


20 November

Preparations for the mid-jury next week


27 November

Mid-jury, with architect Johannes Berry (South Africa)


4 December

Because a small group of Erasmus-students could not participate in the mid-jury of 27 November (they had to take part at an organized excursion to Antwerp) we did a mid-jury for these students during this session, again with Johannes Berry as external member. Some projects were still in a vague state, with the need to take crucial decisions within the next two weeks until the final jury, others were already quite elaborated and convincing. So there was one student still struggling between a reflection on the relation of fascination and domination, linked to questions of being attracted to an object more than one chooses it consciously, further on thinking of the habitat of a forest as an environment that fights clear perspectives by disintegrating references; another student introduced a helicopter perspective on a forest via a drone, carrying a camera – without doubt a very intriguing proposal, that needs a lot more elaboration; a third student referred to comic strips and the imagination of a ʽportable holeʼ, that a figure might draw itself to escape out of the space, like in a (controllable, so impossible) black hole – again the practical research on how he might present his interpretation of it was still unclear. Then we went outside the studio, to visit two presentations in the hall. In the first one, a design student had combined via an arrangement of four Aʼs a geometrical, optical illusion on three levels, because forth- and background were fighting each other in different ways. It also reminded the jury of ornamental patterns in for example African cultures. It was quite a strong  impression, a promising step that just asks for what might be called ʻfine tuningʼ. After that the second student showed a transparent poster, hanging on a window of glass, with reversed texts on it. This too led to a very fruitful discussion, with the question, to which extent the reversed texts on the poster should be seen as the key issue of the piece or the transparent poster itself, as a reversable object on glass, to define an architectural space.


11 December

Visit to the Greek orthodox church in Ghent, with the priest Dominique Verbeke

18 December

Final jury, with gallery owner Frederik Hoofd (Belgium) and architect Johannes Berry (South Africa) as external members


Target group:

international students in the Master from the disciplines of fine arts, design and architecture           

Number of participants: 23

Nationality of the participant:

Belgian, Italian, Albanese, Polish, German, Dutch, Portuguese, South  African,  Turkish

Sex of the participants: females­­­­­­­­­­ 13  man­­­ 10

Age of the participants: 22 to 30

Amount of meetings with the learners:  12

A Number of people reflecting:   Solo (1 person)   Small group

(< 20 people)


 Large group

(> 20 people) X


B The way(s) of sharing: see the notes of the sessions in the Practical Information above
Verbal:   X


Non-verbal:   Pictures / X

  drawings X

  Text X   Em­bodied X  sculpture X


  Other forms of expression


Digital:   Padlet


  Social media   Digital diary X


C Place of reflection (where)   Indoors X


  Outdoors X   On-line


D. Steps taken to implement

How did you organize your testing project (or to put it differently: as this is a testing project for experimenting, what will be different comparing to the same course you run the previous time)?

See the description of the project and the notes in de Practical Information above


E. Your assessment of the outcome

In general, how do you look at the results of your testing project?

One student wrote in her Learner‘s Feedback: “It felt good to really think about things.“ To me this is a perfect summarize of our aim, for whatever we succeeded in our course or not. But that it cultivated a profound dialogue and experimenting for as well the students as the teachers, because we asked for something yet unrealized: change our experience and thinking of what Reverse Perspective might be/mean, in the fields of fine art, design and/or architecture. By looking back, the students articulated their ideas and visions regarding the subject, and documented it richly, as you can see in the attached combination of my report on the course, the papers, the feedback and the images, which illustrate the atmosphere, the works and the individual outcome of each participant.

If I look at the Learner‘s Feedback, I recognize that the most important experience for the students where in general three moments: a) the explanation that Wim Goes gave about his own reflection of reverse perspective regarding his project for Yamamoto (see the notes of the session on 9 October); b) when we saw the movie Stalker in respect to the question of reverse perspective (23 October); c) when we visited the Greek Orthodox Church in Ghent and Dominique Verbeke introduced the students to paintings of reverse perspective in the building (11 December). You may conclude that the first example was a close insight into the practice of the teacher, the second one a puzzling artistic experience and the third one a special and unfamiliar outdoor one. The same time these extraordinary moments are extra in relation to the continous, ordinary meetings, discussions and presentations that were ongoing during the whole process.

   Connecting with principles: which principle(s) were you taking into consideration mostly when facilitating reflection with learners? Please add 2 sentences about how you were translating the principle into practice. For more information: see postings on principles.


Raising awareness within learners to ‘own’ their learning in personally meaningful way


Developing a relationship between educator and learners based on trust, openness, empathy, honesty, dialogue and feedback

Our way of teaching was: ‘Together we go into the unknown, but we will back you.’ Inventiveness asks for the openness to even find something you never imagined it might exist. At the same time we do not want just to find something new – but also question it, ‘reverse’ it. Therefore we discussed the movie Stalker and the presentation of the principal characters – the longing person (the stalker), the novelist and the physician. As artists, designers, architects and also philosophers we are not simply one of these figures. What is our point of view in ‘reverse perspective’? To begin with the architect, Wim, can only present an insight into his own practice (see the notes of the session of 9 October). The same goes for the philosopher, me in this case. This means, we discuss openly, without formats. The principle mentioned above is focusing the ethics of teaching. Present them by never hide behind a tool, an instrument, a concept, an idea, etc., but by speaking from attentive reception and perception, incorporated experience and carefully chosen interventions, comments, suggestions, etc. This demands an enormous amount of study and practice, for the architect as well for the philosopher. The crucial moments for a good relation with the student are certainly then conflicts of viewpoints. A respectful relation should carry the atmosphere of these confronting moments.


Co-creating the reflective process


Managing the steering paradox of intrinsic learning processes

The subject of the course, Reverse Perspective, enforced any paradox. How did we do it? By giving the structural rule, that for evaluation the students have to change our experience of reverse perspective and therefore trigger new insights/viewpoints. Now they had to find their individual ways by doing it, by reflecting on it in the group as well as individually, and by presenting their practical manifestations in relation to it. They were advised by the consequences of the steps they took by themselves. To force these advices critically, we confronted them with first a practical mid-jury, then a final jury (see the notes of the sessions in the Practical Information). In these jury’s they were not judged on the question if they really changed our experience, but more on the consequences they chose in their ways of searching for it. Like this, they could fail, but still succeed in the course, if they tried consequently enough. So the goal (to change our experience and insights) was not the main goal, but the way to find it – and if someone found it, she or he ‘scored’ in both ways (by trying consequently enough and even finding a new possibility). This allowed us to differentiate our assessment practically seen in three levels: not succeeded, well-enough tried and even fully succeeded. In theoretical terms we further asked a written reflection on the whole process. So again they had to reshape their orientation and experienced in this sense the ‘steering paradox of intrinsic learning processes’.


Creating the right reflective attention of learners


Slowing down and value moments of not-knowing



Deepening your questions progressively



Recalling  that reflection can never be imposed, only kindly invited.


Always considering reflection as a broad and deepening process, that should be holistic.


Being careful how to asses reflection (or not at all)


[1]          Compare Bernhard Waldenfels (2011): Phenomenology of the Alien. Evanston.

[2]          See Bernard Stiegler (1998): Technics and Time, I. The Fault of Epimetheus. Stanford.


[3]            See François Jullien (2012): The Great Image Has No Form, or on the Non-object Through Painting. Chicago.