Nick Hackworth

Eyes, Lies and Illusions, Hayward

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

This fascinating exhibition leaves one with the strong suspicion that there once flourished a world of visual artifice and trickery more subtle and mysterious than that served up today on our film and TV screens by the power of CGI.

Eyes, Lies and Illusions is a thematic exploration of the art of visual perception from the Renaissance onwards, drawing on the extraordinary collection of pre-cinematic optical objects and related ephemera belonging to German experimental film-maker Werner Nekes.

It was an art studied and exploited to indulge the full range of human motivations, from straight wonder in its weird effects upon our perception to the communication of censored information, from the political to the pornographic.

The show moves from darkness into light, beginning with the ancient art of shadow-play, moving into tricks of the light, examining perspective and the psychology of perception, before finishing with early attempts to capture the fourth dimension — time — visually with the birth of cinema.

Classics of unusual visual perception abound, from bendy mirrors to a full- sized Ames room — designed by painter Adelbert Ames — into which you can peer to see people magically shrink an grow as they move along the deceptively sloping, angled floors.

There are also pieces of optically themed contemporary art interspersed among the exhibits, including a famous light-projection work by Anthony McCall and a typically spooky installation by Tony Oursler.

But the stars of the show are the objects and pieces that hold within them hidden messages, symbols and signs. A selection of “seditious toys”, such as walking canes and chess pieces, hide the profiles of famous and dangerous icons in their forms, from Marie-Antoinette to George Washington, revealed only when a shadow is cast; and a myriad of documents, prints and cards give up their innocuous surfaces when backlit to reveal everything from the coming apocalypse to the pleasures of fornication.

Until 3 January, 2005. Information: 08703 800 400.