Extreme Imagination: Inside the Mind's Eye

A small percentage of the population do not experience mental imagery; another minority experience particularly vivid mental imagery. Both groups include artists, writers, and designers. Extreme Imagination – inside the mind’s eye presents their work.

Hosted in 2019 by Tramway, Glasgow, and then Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, the exhibition challenges long-held beliefs about what it means to be creative.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and curated by the artist Susan Aldworth, the exhibition is the result of research lead by Professor Adam Zeman of the University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health, and the Eye’s Mind research group: Fiona Macpherson (philosophy, Glasgow), Crawford Winlove (neuroscience, Exeter), John Onians (art history, University of East Anglia), and Matthew MacKisack (cultural history, Exeter).

In 2015, Professor Zeman coined the term “aphantasia” to describe a phenomenon in which some people are unable to conjure up pictures inside their minds. He called the opposite phenomenon “hyperphantasia”, in which people have particularly vivid mental imagery.

When these extremes of ‘mind’s eye’ experience were identified, a huge public response followed, with thousands of people recognising themselves as ‘aphantasic’ or ‘hyperphantasic’ – including a number of artists.

Extreme Imagination: inside the mind’s eyepresents their artwork, inviting us to consider the impact of these phenomena on the creative process. 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?

Aphantasia and its opposite teach us about human diversity: the easily-missed, potentially startling differences between individuals’ inner lives. The work of the participating artists – and designers, architects, and writers – demonstrates the diversity of means by which things come to be made, challenging long-held beliefs about what it means to be ‘creative’.

Find interviews with participating artists here.

Extreme Imagination: inside the mind’s eye runs at Tramway, Glasgow, from the 10th of January 2019 to the 3rd of March 2019, before moving to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, where it runs from the 30th of March to the 2nd of June.

Extreme Imagination events at Tramway, Glasgow:

Thursday 10th of January, 5 – 7pm: Exhibition Preview

Saturday 12th of January, 11.30am – 1pm: Curator Susan Aldworth introduces the exhibition, with talks by Professor Adam Zeman and Dr Matthew MacKisack of the University of Exeter, and Professor Fiona Macpherson of the University of Glasgow

Extreme Imagination events at RAMM, Exeter:

Friday 5th of April: Exhibtion Opening event at RAMM

Friday 5th - Sunday 7th April: Extreme Imagination Conference, University of Exeter

Image: Isabel NolanA lion with a thorn in his paw, 2015. Courtesy Kerlin Gallery