THE SHEET OF SHADOWS
The sheet of paper gives birth to shadow. A sheet as fragile as a spider's web, still hardly visible, frail, it flies away at the slightest breath. A small, imperfect rectangle according to its natural contours, its matter has almost disappeared, it is made only of the space between the fibres; it seems, in the end, made from emptiness scarcely delimited by these slim cords that make it up. Nevertheless, it is a sheet of paper. Put the sheet on the hand and it becomes skin. In the air, it becomes breath. On a black background, it becomes shadow. The light only travels through it and loses itself in obscurity. Placing a sheet, or three, or five, or seven, on the black background of the canvas, a furtive light starts to crystallise, like a nebula of the Milky Way. Placing nine, twelve, fifteen, then twenty-one, and finally thirty of these sheets, the Milky Way densifies, the light travels through the shadow, it is reflected, becomes the sparkling of the Pole Star, accompanied by the light of a milky moon. The limpid air of winter crystallises the brightness. Night – winter. It is then that one sees the majestic celestial vault, that the blue of the sky, the day, is but a mirage and a fragile sphere. Truth is black. It is infinite. Constellated by thousands of billions of stars, as pitch black as it seems, it still makes visible to us the light of all these suns that we do not see when space is obscured by the brightness of day. At night, the sky is obscure brightness. Twinkling and cold light – rhythm, waves, pulsation. Light is only light if it meets an element that reflects it, or absorbs it. In space, it just travels endlessly through the dark weightlessness that extends into infinity. When one looks at the sky at night, our eyes become the screen that it needs. It stops here, in our eyes; its voyage of so many hundreds of billions of years is finished, we see it, it dies in us in its sudden visibility. We become the receptacle that gives form to light.
Form. The format of the pictures comes from that of the sheet of paper that lives inside. Four sheets, laid edge to edge, determine the dimensions of the work. The interval depends on the number of sheets used, the same for all the pictures. When the interval is identical from left to right, from top to bottom, this forms a uniform grid over the entire surface. But the arrangement of the sheets can vary, sometimes in a straight line, sometimes in an inclined line, always respecting the same logic. Playing with the two dimensions, this can give a horizontal straight line and a vertical straight line, or a diagonal from left to right on the horizontal plane and a diagonal from right to left on the vertical plane. Going further, we can represent a curve, which is conveyed using this system of arranging the sheets of paper by a V-shaped line in on the horizontal plane and an upturned V on the vertical plane. The third dimension is established by the superposing of the material, whose thinness is infinitesimal. The fourth dimension is created by the light, the movement of whose rays form a space-time before the pictures, becoming visible in the eyes of the spectator who contemplates the flux of time through the waves of light endlessly succeeding each other. In total a dozen arrangements can be envisaged within the minuscule limits of the system described. Letting the mathematics speak without leaving the imprint of any desire, except that of always respecting the logical next step of the interval, these are the possible structures inside a system that engenders what becomes visible. However, this visible, resulting from these possibilities, suddenly evokes an idea of evolution. And the mental images slide into the interstice between two sheets and the cadence of the interval.
The interval. The first and the last sheet are superposed with the same gap that exists between all of them. Here, where the meeting takes place, the density of the superpositions, and therefore the light, is strongest. It is here that what has happened and what is to come have equal importance. Between birth and death, all life finds its point of symmetry. Beginning, middle, end. Always. An interval can last for an instant or for eternity. It, too, is made up of a beginning, a middle and an end, like the whole of continuous time that it forms laid edge to edge. Continuous time can be envisaged as a single, contiguous movement, or as a sequenced movement of instants, like the fixed images that form a movement perceived as continuous while watching a cinematic film. There is the incredibly short interval of the movement of an electron around the nucleus, the interval of the rotation of the earth on its axis, of the earth around the sun, of the passage of comets; perhaps the universe itself has an interval of birth and rebirth whose extent is unimaginable by man. The interval of eternity.
Breaking up time into smaller and smaller intervals, their number increases to infinity. Starting from that premise, a sunny day would be an interval of one. In hours, twelve. In minutes, seven hundred and twenty. In seconds, four thousand three hundred and twenty. And so on. The last second of pure conscience, sequenced in this manner, would be eternity. The interval gives the possibility of understanding a single sequence in order to make oneself an image of the present as it is, and perhaps to see a minuscule part of what is.
What is. Beauty, truth are not born of what one wants, but of what is. Here is the sheet of paper. The artist is confronted with it, tries to understand all its characteristics, its specificity, its uniqueness. Then, he does his utmost to make these dozens of parameters that make the sheet what it is, and nothing else, shine out. Observation, reflection, nakedness, humility, submission to what is. Will, mastery, action are the worst enemies of the union with the present. To take a step back opens up the vision. To put oneself forward blurs the view of reality. What is tells us what to do with it, in what way the result flows from the reality and becomes truth. Will, mastery and action must stay in the background. They must be unsullied by any trace of the ego’s demands. They must be raised up and purified, then interiorised to the point where they disappear from our conscience. The conscience, liberated from parasitic pipe dreams, becomes limpid, clear, empty. It becomes the mirror of what is. Once this is transposed, rendered visible in works, they themselves become this mirror and, in turn, allow one to convey to others the vision of reality, the feeling of truth. To calm the conscience, to sharpen the vision, to soothe the soul. This is the trinity of flux that the works created according to the precepts described can breathe into the spectator. These are therefore the tools that help to see, as much as possible, what is, in full light.
Light. It was there on the first day. It will be there on the last. After that, it will be night. Without the earth, without the moon, without the stars, without the galaxies, a void. The light was there even before what we call life. Is not that life itself ? If man has eyes, it is because of it. If plants grow, if life moves, if things are, it is because of it. Is not the greatest miracle that the sun rises every morning and makes day on earth? That night, on each sunset, after a symphony of complementary colours, shows us that this space is so vast, so inhabited by light? Why does man seem no longer to see this inconceivable spectacle of transcendent beauty shown by the light day after day, night after night? Why does he not drink it up with his eyes? The Japanese ideogram for ‘interval’ represents a door half-open to the sun. A thin sliver of light penetrates the dark room, gently radiates and presages the life flowing outside. Outside, in full daylight, are fields, forests, mountains, the river, the lake, the sea, the wind, life. But, in the dark room, there is only the hint of that dazzle, which makes one aware of it. The light existed long before man. It will be there long after him. The life of man is but this door half-open to the sun, for a moment. What unfolds around him in the universe is hidden behind a screen of mist.
The mist rises, envelops, makes some things disappear, and makes others appear. It creates the halo around the moon, plays with the light, dresses it in tangible matter. Through the mist, the stars, the moon lose their own paths and dazzle in a subdued way. Black and white melt into tones of grey. Still, the Pole Star, the moon remain present through their rays, refracted by each droplet of water. The light is spirit, linear; water is body, fluid. Light vaporises water, water clouds light. Water and light, a matter, an energy, both engender life. Light takes form in water. Water reveals its spirit. Luminous mist envelops us, the skin becomes a thin membrane allowing our body to exchange with that of water, our spirit with that of light. Isolated from things, as it seems, in the mist, we are nevertheless closer to the fundamental factors of the forces of life. Like a sheet of paper, pliable, fluid, between past and future, between shadow and light.
Jörg Gessner, Lyon, November 2015
(Translation Alison Culliford)