‘I’m nothing but a voice in the darkness, I will disappear with the dawn. I will slip out of this room when you can tell a black thread from a white and when Muslims give the call to prayer.’
Tell them of Battles, Kings and Elephants, Mathias Enard
Someone told me once that in former times, in some Islamic cultures, people would know the time to break fast when a piece of string held out at arm’s length was no longer visible.
This idea completely captured my imagination. I spent weeks researching, trying to find a reference to this practice, but found none. And then, serendipitously, I came across the quote above in a book I was reading at the time. The line is spoken by Michelangelo’s mistress who is leaving him at dawn. The story is set in Constantinople in the 16th century. Though different, it was close enough.
I decided to experiment and hung a piece of string from the washing line in the back garden. It was early autumn and I filmed a time-lapse video one evening. Later in the season, I created another video, this time of a piece of flex suspended below a skylight. The image and video below are of this project.
A piece of string suspended from a washing line.
A length of wire suspended below a skylight.
Late afternoon. dusk. day fading to night.
A minimal composition, without artifice.
Fixed in one point in space, and viewed over a variable span of time.
Indefinably — this image — stirred my imagination, causing it to ripple and stretch, radiating outwards like a wave.
I attempted to capture that liminal period. when light takes on an almost preternatural quality. becoming animated. full. filling space like air fills a balloon.
Soon, there was nothing to see. the string receded from view.
Its presence, displaced by darkness, remained as a memory.
I was reminded of Turrell’s words: “Twilight is the time we see best. When we dim the light down, and the pupil opens, feeling comes out of the eye like touch. Then you really can feel colour, and experience it.”
Vision and Perception
“In the half-light, the simple task of seeing requires both stepping further into the self—with memory and imagination supplying what our eyes can’t—and stepping away from ourselves in order to more carefully probe the otherness visible around us.” [Shedding Light, Guernica, Pamela Petro]
The fading light opened up the horizontal field of view.
focus gradually shifted from the string to encompass the entire frame.
the string becoming enfolded in space. this transformation unfolding over time.
1 a : to cover with or as if with folds : ENVELOP
b : to surround with a covering : CONTAIN
2 : to clasp within the arms : EMBRACE
1 a : to open the folds of : spread or straighten out : EXPAND
b : to remove (something, such as a package) from the folds : UNWRAP
2 : to open to the view : REVEAL
especially : to make clear by gradual disclosure
Vision shifted from a central to a peripheral field of view. shifting perception and the experience of space.
These two visual fields functioning in parallel while processing different types of information from the external world. influencing where we place our attention and how we understand the scene.
What we look at is different from what we see. and what we see is variable.
"I like to use light as a material, but my medium is actually perception. I want you to sense yourself sensing - to see yourself seeing." [Turrell]
The string experiment — though different in form — shares the spirit of Turrell’s work.
It provided a touchpoint. an experience to make you “feel the presence of light inhabiting a space.”
If there were no string — no focus — what would be left?
the fading evening light. a fragmentation of awareness.
the string captured my attention. located it in a specific point in space and time.