Thomas Kuhn and Jessie Oonark:
Visual Gestalt

Oonark
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Jessie Oonark, Two Fish Looking for Something to Eat, 1978, Baker Lake (BL 127PR78 16).

"In a key passage from one of the most influential books of our times The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, T. S. Kuhn bridged the disciplinary gap between visual representation and conceptual innovation when he used the famous gestalt illusion of the duck-rabbit as a primary symbol for the meaning and nature of scientific revolution: "It is as elementary prototypes for these transformations of the scientist's world that the familiar demonstrations of a switch in visual gestalt prove so suggestive. What were ducks in the scientist's world before the revolution are rabbits afterwards." Shearer and Gould

The work of Inuit artist Jessie Oonark reflects a high tolerance for ambiguity in which the visual horizontal/vertical switching reveals either a standing woman or a fish swimming.

When viewed vertically Jessie Oonark's print Two Fish Looking for Something to Eat reveals a standing woman whose face fills the amaut. Is she birthing or eating the small blue fish? The fish-figure wearing a man's parka seems to be kiss-touching rather than eating.

Jessie Oonark, although familiar with oral traditions and legends, is never satisfied with a one-layered literal illustration. The horizontal print Two Fish Looking for Something to Eat depicts her version of the cannibal fish story but her double vision leaves room for ambiguity. The cannibal fish also appears in Jessie Oonark's 1977 print Untitled (Yellow fish).

Jessie Oonark's verbal descriptions of her own work are often cryptic: These are sea creatures, and they are sort of eating one another. There is a story, and that is it that one whole person along with a qayak was swallowed up by some giant fish or creature or whatever - somewhere near Gjoa Haven or Back River. (Jackson, "Transcript of Interview". 1983:39)

Other examples of visual puns used by Inuit artists include the Inuit calendar which can be read equally well when inverted.

  • Shearer, Rhonda Roland and Gould, Stephen Jay (ESSAY ON SCIENCE AND SOCIETY: Of Two Minds and One Nature"
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    Maureen Flynn-Burhoe 2000. Carleton University. Last updated March, 2000.
    Maureen Flynn-Burhoe 2000. Carleton University. Last updated April, 2000.