Hidden REF award for Macpherson

Fiona Macpherson has won the 2021 Hidden REF award in the communicative outputs category for the online Extreme Imagination Exhibition.

A small percentage of the population do not experience mental imagery (they have aphantasia); another minority experience particularly vivid imagery (they have hyperphantasia). Both groups include artists, writers, and designers. The Extreme Imagination 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? The Eye's Mind team (details below) believe this is the first exhibition to reflect on these questions—because the centrality of mental imagery to art-making has previously been assumed.

The online exhibition is the digital counterpart of twin exhibitions hosted by Tramway, Glasgow, and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, in 2019—together with the essays from the exhibition catalogue from the Eye’s Mind researchers, artist interviews, videos of talks at the concurrent conference, and resources about extremes of imagery. It includes the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire allowing people to gauge their own imagery and feedback forms, which the researchers can gather data from. The images on the website are captioned for the use of screen readers and the artist interviews are subtitled.

Effective public engagement, including this website, prompted over 14,000 people with extreme imagery to contact the Eye’s Mind researchers. They often reported a prior awareness that something was different about themselves, that they struggled to explain. The research allowed them to understand how they differed from others; and point to the research to verify and explain this difference to others.

The Eye's Mind team: Adam Zeman (neurology), Fiona Macpherson (philosophy), John Onions (art history), Crawford Winlove (neuroscience), Susan Aldworth (artist) and Matthew MacKisack (English). The physical exhibitions were curated by Aldworth and MacKisack. Macpherson and Joanna Helfer conceived and created the online version.

First published: 7 September 2021