Vanishing Exercise

The collapse of the atom model was equivalent, in my soul, to the collapse of the whole world. Suddenly the thickest walls fell, I would not have been amazed if a stone appeared before my eye in the air, melted, and became invisible.

-Wassily Kandinsky [1]

On February 1st I took one painting from the Small Goals series to Het Park, a public park in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. I chose a tree with ample open space on its sun-facing side and attached the painting to it in the middle of the trunk at 160 cm above ground level. I moved incrementally in as straight a line as possible away from the tree (toward the sun) noting the distance's effect on how I saw the painting. I arrived and began at 15:45; the exercise ended at 16:59.

Transcription from audio recording:

The Painting

The painting is 17mm wide, 21 mm tall and 1.8 mm thick. It has a pink-grey ground with dark green lines and grey lines offset bellow the green lines to look like shadows. There are 7 green lines and 7 corresponding grey lines (fake shadows). Three have angles and four are straight. The lines in the upper-left and lower-right corners extend off, or rather, are cropped by the edge of the rectangular surface.

The Tree

The tree trunk is approximately 35 cm in diameter. Its bark is brown and thoroughly speckled with yellow-green moss and gray-green and tan-pink lichen plants.

Observations taken at 3-meter incremental distances:

0 meters (my face at 40 cm from painting): The colors are different but the general shade of the painting is similar to the color shades of the tree bark and lichen.

3 meters: I can see the painting. I can still see its pinkish-lavender hue. I still see that it is a rectangle. I count 1,2,3,4,5 and 6 of the green lines.[2] The lower right line, which is straight and meets the edge of the canvas, is just barely still part of the composition.

6 meters: The painting is still visible. It is rectangular. There is a shadow at the bottom edge that helps to distinguish the painting from the tree. I am now noticing that the color of the painting is looking much more like one of the shades of lichen growing on the tree. A lichen cluster above and to the right of the painting is grayish-tan and especially similar in hue to the painting. I can still make out some of the green lines but they are not countable.

9 meters: I still see the painting, similar to the last observation. The shadow at the bottom edge of the painting still acts to distinguish the painting from the bark. Color is still very similar to the lichen cluster that begins 20 or 30 cm above and right of the painting. The lines on the painting have disappeared.

12 meters: The painting is a dot on the tree. It is blending in quite well to its background. No longer entirely recognizable as a rectangle. Could just be a mark on the tree but it stands out as different from the moss and lichen. I still see it as the only mark of its kind. It is a grey-tan blob at this point.

15 meters: I see the painting. It is just a mark, not entirely blended in to the background, still distinct to the other marks and textures on the tree. With regard to color it still looks like the lichen to the above and right.

18 meters: The painting is still visible. Still a mark. Getting smaller. Still tan. Looks like it could be part of the tree or a naturally occurring growth although there are no other marks quite like it.

21 meters: Still visible. Again, just a dot. Blending in more but stands out as different from the other marks on the tree.

24 meters: The painting is a dot. At this point, like the last two increments, I might think it was if I didn't know that it is not part of the tree. It’s just a dot but stands out.

27 meters: I still see the painting. Just a light-colored dot on the tree but the lightest colored dot. It looks a little bit more pink than the tan lichen, maybe due to the sun's angle and a moment without dense cloud coverage.

30 meters: Still see the painting.

33 meters: Painting still visible as dot—lightest speck on the tree.

36 meters: Painting just a dot.

39 meters: Still see the painting—just a speck.

42 meters: Still see the painting—just a speck.

45 meters: Same story.

48 meters: Painting visible—just a speck.

51 meters: Standing in a puddle. Painting visible.

54 meters: Painting is barely visible but it is there, I do see it.

57 meters: I barely see the painting. Almost don't see it.

60 meters: Just a dot.

63 meters: Still visible! Just a dot really.

66 meters: Painting still visible probably only because I know it is there.

69 meters: I think its still there. Still a speck.

72 meters: Still a speck.

75 meters: I don't know if I see it anymore. But… when I move my head side to side and up and down while keeping my eye on the position of the painting, I still see a focal point, a white dot, the painting.

78 meters: Gonna go ahead and say, I still see it. Fucker, I still see it.

81 meters: I… ooh, I don't know. I guess I still see it. I think I've moved in a slightly curved line away from the tree so that the painting from this position is a little to my right of center of the tree.

84 meters: I think I still see it but… damn, really hard to tell.[3]

87 meters: I still see it.

90 meters: I want to say I still see it but it is because I know it is there. It is 16:56 and getting a bit darker.

93 meters: Oh. I don't know. My path is off. I don't know if I see it. I will go to 96 and straighten my path.

96 meters: I don't think I see it anymore.

99 meters: I think it is gone. Because it is so hard to tell, I’m going to say that I don't see it anymore.

Concluding notes:

The sun's position in the sky was much lower by 16:59. Clouds came and went throughout the 73 minutes. Due to time of day, time of year and weather conditions, the light changed significantly during the exercise but I do not think these factors drastically affected the outcome. It is clear that the formal qualities of the painting and the chosen background greatly influence its point of disappearance. A dark painting would have vanished from my sight at a much closer distance. It can be ascertained from the repeated observations, such as "just a speck" and "I think I still see it," that I continued to observe the painting because I knew it was there. Many people walked through this area of the park during my time there and many walked very close to the tree. They saw me in a one-piece rain suit with an extended tape measure at my feet and a red backpack whilst speaking into a recording device and looking at a tree; they saw the tree; they did not see the painting.

What follows is a transcription of the remaining minutes of the audio recording:

The rain suit—plastic; the tape measure—plastic; the boots—plastic; the backpack—plastic; the recording device—mostly plastic; the contact lenses—plastic; the painting—plastic; the park—manicured, man-made, landscaped, fully manicured landscape, land scrape, man scape, man shape, land shape. Looking back at the tree, I first notice a line, the line I made by trampling the wet grass as I backed away from the tree. Next to that line, I notice another parallel line about 50 centimeters away. More subtle than the line I made but similar in that it looks as if each blade of grass has turned slightly and is catching the light differently, making the line a slightly lighter green than the rest of the grass. I direct my vision at the tree and painting again but not in a focused address, more in recognition of my peripheral vision—a range of approximately 120 degrees bisected at 60 by the line I've stamped out, extending from my nose to the tree. I notice not just a parallel line of lighter grass but a grid. A more illuminated, almost raised lattice into which the line I made now fits. The tonal difference is similar to a freshly mowed professional playing field, where the path of the mower has left alternating stripes of lighter and darker hues of abnormally green grass. But the grass is not freshly mowed. It is winter (or it was winter), a bit muddy, some puddles even and dead leaves about. Yet this grid… it is abnormally green, almost glowing, mapped to the contours of the land as if projected from above, but only appearing where there is grass. The grid does not extend across the park’s paved paths. As it exists in space before my eye, the grid is in perspective. The lines headed from my end out past the tree, would converge somewhere near the horizon.

I turn to my left (north). The grid follows. What used to be the line I impressed in the grass remains between my new focal point and myself. The parallel and divergent lines of the lattice have moved with the centerline as if the grid were a projection from my own eyes. The darker squares in the grid now seem to be raised and the lines receded. They swap. Actually the grass has a subtle vibration. The darker squares and lighter-toned grid lines oscillate between being embossed and debossed.[4] I seem to be experiencing a sort of perception-projection delay. The light waves hitting my eyes, which make vision possible, are superposing slightly out of phase with the waves of my own past personal experience, that knowledge of the world I project back onto it.

[1] Quoted in Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages, (2005, pg.117) who quoted from Gerald Holton and Stephen J. Brush, Physics, the Human Adventure, from Copernicus to Einstein and Beyond. (2001) Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
[2] I missed the line in the upper left corner in my voice recording from 3 meters. I can assume it was already invisible at that distance.
[3] I decided to stop taking pictures at this point because my hands were too cold.
[4] "In general, a wave with a particular wavelength oscillates up and down once over a fixed distance; that distance is the wavelength.” (Randall, pg.128)

Table of Contents

Vanishing Exercise
Through a Double Slit
No Dreams, No Logic
Erotics of Art and Science