a crop from a charcoal drawing with hands over a woman's eyes, a chalkboard with key words and a nude in fetal position

Extreme Imagination: Inside the Mind's Eye

Extreme Imagination Exhibition

Welcome to our online art exhibition Extreme Imagination: Inside the Mind’s Eye – the digital counterpart of twin exhibitions hosted by Tramway, Glasgow, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, in 2019. Those exhibitions were organised by the Eye's Mind research project team and curated by Susan Aldworth and Matthew MacKisack. This online version was conceived and created by Fiona Macpherson and Joanna Helfer. It won the 2021 Hidden REF award for best communicative output.

A small percentage of the population do not experience mental imagery (they have aphantasia); another minority experience particularly vivid mental imagery (they have hyperphantasia). Both groups include artists, writers, and designers. Our exhibition presents their work, inviting us to consider the role of mental imagery in making art. How can someone make anything without being able to imagine what they want it to look like? Is there a distinctly hyperphantasic kind of art? As far as we are aware, this is the first exhibition to reflect on these questions – perhaps because the centrality of mental imagery to art-making has previously been assumed.

Aphantasia and Hyperphantasia

A small proportion of healthy individuals, perhaps two or three percent of the population, lack visual imagination completely, a phenomenon we have termed, “aphantasia”. Others have imagery as vivid as real seeing – “hyperphantasia". Most people lie on a spectrum in between these two extremes. These terms were coined by Adam Zeman of the Eye's Mind Team in 2015.