Pepper’s ghost effect, triangles, cyan and red gives new life to the Victorian-era invention made popular by John Henry Pepper. Pepper’s ghost was an early special effect that projected ghosts onto theatre stages through light and reflection.
“Pepper’s ghost has typically been used in theatre, film and amusement park rides. This simple effect uses an angled pane of glass to create the illusion of a ghost-like image within another scene, exploiting the optical properties of glass as both a reflector and transmitter of light.
In my work I wanted to replicate this effect using simple abstract forms and flat fields of colour to draw attention to this merging of the two light images, while also laying bare the apparatus used to create the illusion.” – Taree Mackenzie
Popularised in the theatres of the Victorian era, the origins of the Pepper’s ghost can be traced to 1584 with Neapolitan scholar and scientist Giambattista della Porta. In his book Magia Naturalis (‘Natural Magic’), della Porta describes using a pane of glass to give the impression that an object located behind the viewer appears in front of them, reflected on the plane of glass. This is similar to seeing the reflection of an object located in the room behind you when looking through a window at night – the object seemingly appears to be in front of you outside.
The concept was then re-discovered in the late 1850s by Henry Dircks, who presented it to the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Dircks proposed using the invention in theatre productions to create ghostly apparitions through concealed compartments under the audiences seating area which could house actors lit with oxyhydrogen-driven limelight. Dircks never constructed a fully sized theatre though and John Henry Pepper took up his idea and refined the concept, leading to Pepper’s name being associated with the illusion, rather than Dircks.
The Pepper’s ghost is so simple and effective that it has been continually used ever since in everything from Disneyland’s famous Haunted House ride to our very own War Pictures exhibition, as well as in teleprompters and even as a way to bring back long deceased performers. This is how Digital Domain resurrected Tupac to perform with Dr Dre and Snoop Dog at Coachella in 2012. Shakur’s image was projected onto a sheet of glass which was then reflected onto a mylar screen. Many reports suggested that the apparition was a hologram made by a futuristic laser projection, when in reality, Tupac’s image appeared using the Pepper’s ghost effect, technology from the 1800s.
– Curator Chelsey O'Brien
Taree Mackenzie biography
Through video and installation, Taree Mackenzie explores the perceptual effects of colour, light and space. Her videos are made using constructed sets and employ basic visual devices such as lighting and framing to create simple but surprising onscreen effects. While at first the videos may appear digital, the trickery is always made apparent through small imperfections in the video or by showing the sets alongside the moving images. Mackenzie’s aim is to encourage a sense of wonder and surprise by prompting the viewer out of their habitual modes of looking.
Recent solo exhibitions include: Neon Parc, 2018; Hairdryer Work, TCB art Inc., Melbourne, 2016; Line Shadows, Studio 12 at Gertrude Contemporary, Melbourne, 2014; Un Magazine 6.1 Launch, Death be Kind, Melbourne 2012. Selected group shows include: Set in Motion, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand, 2016; Dancing Umbrellas, Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, 2016; NEW14, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 2014.
Mackenzie holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting) from the Victorian College of the Arts.
Artist Taree Mackenzie discusses the optical illusions and trickery that helped make her stunning work
How to watch
In ACMI's collection
On display until
16 February 2031
ACMI: Gallery 1
The Story of the Moving Image → Moving Pictures → MI-01. Light and Shadow
mixed media. acrylic, MDF, reflective tint, LEDs, mirror ball motor, paint, wood and vinyl