Who Died utilized the effects of retinal afterimages as a motif to examine our relationships with the deaths of celebrities and news figures. (Retinal afterimages are the persistent images that are temporarily stamped onto the retina after being exposed to bright lights or highly contrasting stimuli.) This installation utilized high contrast white-on-black drawn portraiture of deceased celebrities and news figures in 2004 as the stimulus for creating retinal afterimages.
The death of a celebrity or news figure is something that is felt and acknowledged by the general public as a commonly shared and yet personalized experience. These individuals are most likely not our friends, but we have coexisted in their presence for a portion of our lives. Their deaths links us back to nostalgic places, favorite pastimes, or act as place holders for significant world events.
“Who Died” allowed participants to interact directly with the installation. Placed on a long table were 59 portraits printed on fan-shaped mountings. With brief descriptions of the individual and instructions on how to see an afterimage on each mounting, viewers can experience the optical illusion while thinking about the subject matter. The gallery walls were left blank to maximize the effect.
Afterimages are described as having a psycho-physiological effect; they not only affect the body, i.e. the retina but also have an effect on our mind. The afterimage is an illusion; it is a construct of our brain and has no physical presence. Yet we cannot deny what we see, the image is very real and it is persistent.