What Do We See When We See Dark Things?

Gallery Huuto, Helsinki, Finland, 2018. The intensity of the light illuminating the installation changes slowly in synchronized, parallel cycles, so that one part of the installation always gets dark when the other becomes brighter.

What Do We See When We See Dark Things?

Gallery Huuto, Helsinki, Finland, 2018. The intensity of the light illuminating the installation changes slowly in synchronized, parallel cycles, so that one part of the installation always gets dark when the other becomes brighter.

I cannot depict total darkness for you, because even if you look at a black photograph I took of darkness, you will still see the light reflecting off the surface of the image. Nor can I speak about silence to you, for it eludes words and breaks the instant it is uttered. But when you look at the image or read these words, you see them not the way they are, but the way they were. You see them the way they were at that instant when light began to travel from them towards you. 

Only I can be in this one place at this one moment, just as you can be only where you are right now. Had I ever stood where you are now, as you read this, my experience would not coincide with yours. And even if I stood by your side right now, the same beam of light would not touch us both. ​​​​​​​

The further you look, the further you see into what has been but is no longer. If darkness is absence, I cannot picture it for you, but when you gaze into the darkness of the night sky – beyond visible stars – you gaze further than your own time. You see the absence of distant stars. Far beyond your temporal horizon, their light without your reach. At this very moment, and the next, an infinite amount of light is constantly traversing space towards you, and yet at the same time it is being pulled away from you in the expanding darkness of the universe at such great speed that it will never touch you, it will never reach you in your time. 
Olbers’ paradox asks why the sky is dark at night. If the universe is infinite in space and time, shouldn’t there be an endless number of stars wherever you look? Then why isn’t the night ablaze with starlight? Why the stars so sparse, why so much darkness in between? Is there an infinite amount of light yet to reach us?

If we could travel with a beam of light, time would cease to exist, distances would bear no meaning and we would experience perfect stillness. From the point of view of a photon the universe stands still, but we are incapable of living all time at once, seeing all light at one time – there is no such thing as a perpetual nowness for us, no ubiquitous light, nor an unchanging universe. There is the darkness of the night sky and starlight receding ever further in its depths. For us there is stillness becoming – there is time, experience, memory.

I see unstoppable movement. Incessant becoming of time, relentless change that never ceases but takes more directions at once. A boundary that cannot be outlined. An instant that is yet to come but has been already.

A simultaneity moving away and coming towards. It is no more and hasn’t happened yet – but there is nothing in between, nowhere to pause, nothing to halt. Only the inaccessible present and the duration of now.
Dead star. You are no more, only immaterial particles of light carry traces of your existence in the darkness of the universe. I see you only now, but you are no more – your last rays of light left towards me long before I was born. But what happens when I look at you– your light shining in the dark sky?

Having traversed the vastness of space and time, does each particle of light I perceive end its journey as it reaches my eye? Dead star, does that mark an end for you, too?​​​​​​​
I have carried these words of R. Barthes with me: “The photograph of the missing being will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.”

What happens when a star’s last rays of light encounter the person looking at them? What happens to the memory of the departed the moment when the last person to recognize them from a photograph is no longer? 
Wednesday (midday). Nurmes, Dec 7th2017

Even on a grim December day like this – darkened by an impenetrable mass of grey clouds – the frozen lake radiates an overwhelming glow. As I reach the shore, the white expanse reflects so much light that the entire scene before me now is nothing more but diffused white light, startling luminosity. Borders dissolve and the horizon joins the sky. The skyline but a mere trace in the distance, there seems to be no opposite shore to the lake’s vast expanse. All I can discern is a hint of a small island, a soft shadow amidst the open whiteness. 

The landscape is still. Light changes slowly, yet ceaselessly. I cannot seize it nor halt it by any means, it is absolute in its refusal to be captured. If only I could remember this view the way I see it and not the way it looks as a photograph. Standing in the stillness, I decide to let go of my urge to try to photograph it, and recall something I once read: “life consists of these little touches of solitude.”

Just as light changes, I realize that what I experience concurrently becomes a memory of the experience. What I see now is already turning into the past, the past turning into a memory – and even my own memory of the shadow of the little island in the middle of the white, open space is not spared from change. 

As I write this, I am already losing focus of what I saw. Letter by letter the image recedes further in my memory. And I know that even if I made my way back onto the frozen lake, the horizon would retreat before me as I’d try to reach it.

To where i cannot follow. The reflection of a stone merges with a faint apparition of another stone behind a translucent, black surface that separates the two. 

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