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2015- ongoing, interdisciplinary

The Nautilus Shutter Experiments were initiated in early 2015 as an ongoing series of experimental engagements with an opto-mechanical device, a Nautilus shutter that was once part of a carbon light projector from the early cinema period. The result of these engagements can take the form of video installation, video work and expanded cinema performance. The sole aim of The Nautilus Shutter Experiments is to explore the perception of light through an apparatus that operates cinema.


True Wholes is an expanded cinema performance. It is a live experiment, a laboratory, an operating theater. It is live sound and vision and it is science fiction. It is sublime, cosmic and a merging of retrograde and contemporary moving image technology. It is engineering, it is an apparatus and an instrument. It is RGB and a dramaturgy of light.


True Wholes is a product of an ongoing series of experimental engagements with an opto-mechanical device, a Nautilus shutter that was once part of a carbon light projector from the early cinema period. The aim of this experiment is to explore the perception of light through an apparatus that operates cinema.


The title for the work is inspired by a quote from Arthur Zajonc [1] and by extension the writings of Fritjof Capra [2]. Both physicists address a historical understanding of light by entwining science, society and the rise of culture.  Newton’s corpuscular view of light also termed Newtonian world machine is a particular concern. The modern scientist’s views are criticised for excluding experience such as colour, sound, taste and smell from the realm of scientific discourse and favouring the methodology of reductionism in experimental research. While Capra argues that science needs to develop the concepts and insights of holism and systems theory by the latter half of the 21st century, Zajonc elaborates on how Romanticists and American transcendentalists of the 19th century, most famously Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, would revolt against modern scientific thought.

‘It would be a century before poets would turn on Newton and the despotism of his

botanizing eye, they would then lament the dismembering of the world into parts,

so that true wholes were never more seen again.’

[1] Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind,  Arthur Zajonc, 1995

[2] The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture, Fritjof Capra, 1982


Work on True Wholes began in 2016 in Anja Mahler’s living room. That same year short prototypes of individual scenes were tested with selected audiences to gain a deeper understanding of space and perception. Realising the potential of the mechanism to be developed into a performance that consists of live sound and vision Mahler applied to The Arts Council’s Visual Arts bursary and was kindly supported by the scheme to realise True Wholes as a 90 minute performance. Subsequently from late 2017 to early 2019 True Wholes was developed by collaborating with filmmaker Dean Kavanagh, sound artist Oli Ryan and product designer Leo Kennedy as well as receiving very special support from Michael Higgins of Cross Guns studio. True Wholes is now ready for public consumption.

View excerpt


Anja Mahler is a visual artist and archivist by trade. She is the creative lead and inventor of True Wholes.

Dean Kavanagh is an experimental filmmaker and digital image technician by trade. His inventiveness and vast experience of imaging techniques have influenced the creation and execution of visuals and sound.

Oli Ryan is a sound artist who studies sculpture and expanded practice at NCAD. His experience  experimental music as well as working with electronic and electro-acoustic homemade sound sources and instruments has transported True Wholes into a live soundscape.

Leo Kennedy is a product designer by trade and the director of Shape Shop. His ingenious engineering abilities and experience with CNC machining and laser cutting ensured a bespoke solution to every aspect of the True Wholes functionality.

Note by the artist

True Wholes is very much inspired by my being an artist and a film archivist.  My visual arts practice is situated in the field of time-based art. The essential element of my work is the passage and manipulation of time through the expressive use of moving image technology and the human body.

As an archivist I am specialising in the preservation of moving image and sound material. To preserve these works I have to deeply and thoroughly understand the essence of what a capturing or playback apparatus can do or, in the words of Laurie Spiegel, pioneer of experimental sound inventions ‘risk failing to perceive its real strengths and characters’.


In my artwork I am responding to the philosopher Maurice Blanchot who states that ‘it is largely by technology that society hangs together’, when considering myself a part of the instrument or apparatus in a cosmic and metaphysical sense.  

The making of previous works saw me repeatedly returning to the same spot at the same time to capture observations of natural phenomena of light on video.  Preparation involved precise studies of planetary and weather conditions at first, and later the construction of a film set that allowed for repetitive capture in order to create a final video work. When presenting on these works it became clear how the essential element was the forgone experimentation, the film set and the desire to synchronise machine, operator and audience.  The notion that this synchronisation is the instrument of sound and vision is key to the making of True Wholes.

This project is kindly supported by the Visual Arts Bursary scheme from

The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon.


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