Gnommero is a series of thematic pamphlets edited by Sarah Tripp and Richard Taylor, which provided space for artists and writers to respond to Italo Calvino’s thoughts on literary qualities in writing practice - lightness, quickness, exactitude and multiplicity - as published in the 1988 publication ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium’.
The Black Drop Effect
I rise early, eager, keen and with no appetite. I’d been dreaming very close, the images shuffling and hiding like a broken carousel of slides.
Climbing the stairs from where I’ve slept is slow work at this time. Transiting the hallway I am struck horizontally between the eyes by the morning sun, though its strength is lessened by the built up condensation clinging to the eastern windows, I still cover my face in a clumsy salute.
In the great room, it is dark and dry. To the far wall is a tall wooden lectern, upon which I have placed a rigid ply board mounted with a stretchered piece of 300gram cotton paper. At the opposite side of the room, wresting on a ladder rung, is a Gregorian telescope pointing towards the window. Its lens reaches through the tightly drawn curtains to the glass pane. Removing the cap allows the only natural light into the room. A piercing sharp cone is established, shooting directly across the room, projecting the Sun onto the stretchered paper at 90 degrees.
I am 45 minutes early.
At this stage sleep no longer holds an interest, granted it was never a hobby I indulged greatly in. It took long enough to build the thing, no point in wasting it now.
My brother will be out on the platform already. Our hulking telescope is pointed like heavy artillery at the heavens. In this venture he has leant my way on several matters, and for that I am very appreciative. It has been long since I found the micro world of interest. To be sucked into and moored to this earth is to me a saddening. My passion has always been the horizon, the scene, the distant. The one point we agree on is the furthering and disappearing of our subject. The higher you turn the dial, in both directions, outwards and inwards, the fuzzier and more elusive the image reads.
There are stages and degrees of examination, at times one can be all eye, all sight, concentrated on that most unusual barrier of the body; the breaking of light waves upon the lens’ cliff. Or one can be located at the image, purely the object, the body becomes numb and shell like, just a cranium shaped site for the vision. This evening however, which is not uncommon, I am only the instrument, no image, no body. I am the giant reflector lens 15 feet below me, polished cool perfect chrome.
1:30 minutes until ingress of the Sun’s limb. I have measured a grid onto the paper where the Sun is striking. The room around me is dark and far in the periphery. My eyes have settled into low light. I am stationed with a clock and notebook. Having set the final positioning and focussing of the telescope I have now been staring solely at the paper for over 30 minutes. Every blink exposes a black hole punch retina burn.
At last the moment of ingress begins with the Planet’s external contact. Slight but unmistakable, a curved sliver bite mark eats into the Sun. I note the exact time and co-ordinates and continue gazing fixedly. Like a child’s crown the Planet protrudes into the solar world.
Sliding elegantly over the paper I am near my second most crucial recording, the moment of internal contact, precisely when the planet breaks from the limb to exist wholly inside the Sun. A hesitation, as the Planet edges ever closer to detachment, its shape alters. An umbilical-cord water drop forms, refusing to let the Planet pass. My timing is confused, the whole Planet sits now within the Sun’s disc, but the bridge remains, for several seconds.
I lean close to the paper’s surface, ever so faintly I make out a gaseous thermalling halo. It encompasses the black circle on all sides, shimmering, except for precisely at the imminent point of detachment. Where the darkness breaks through the Planet’s halo and out to the sea of shade. Then the black drop evaporates and the Planet is free, yet startlingly with the retracting of its bridge now appears situated almost an inch away from the Sun’s limb.
I have no choice but to note this as the time of internal contact, but cannot be sure how my readings will compare to my peers, or how this unpredicted event will skew our calculations.
Out on the viewing platform in the chill night air. I’ve been sat for over an hour now, still trying to focus on the image that my 40ft telescope is delivering to me. I’ve learnt not to become too frustrated with this process, which can be extremely protracted. It occurs sometimes that if I’ve scanned a certain portion of the sky too intently then I cease to register any of it, once I’ve translated all the nebulae into a series of numbered co-ordinates and timings they are checked from my visual spectrum. So I ask for a new positioning.
My brother takes to the dials, which he adjusts with a set of 6 microscopes that give the most precise of bearings. He often remarks how distracting the darkened marks obscuring his view created by the skin on the slopes of his upper nose and cheek are. How this keeps jerking him back to true scale.
Opening the viewfinder I enclose my features into the cold brass body of the telescope. Very slowly the 20inch lens loses its objecthood. Its edges fold away, its curved surface flattens. I begin to finally lose focus of the materiality of the instrument itself.
Our hulking telescope is pointed like heavy artillery at the heavens, but as I stare downwards into deep intimacy this minuscule section of the night sky is sprawled out beneath me. A visage simultaneously sky-bound, earth-bound and eye-bound.
For now still it is utter darkness. A blank flat well which only upon extended intensified looking will reveal itself, as nearly all things, to be fluxing pattern in infinite time, twitching in all colours and brightness’s.
I follow the doctor into a curtained off rectangular room. There is a console at the near side, which she moves towards. At the back of the room is another curtain marking off a smaller circular space in the middle of which is what looks like a barber’s chair.
‘Please take a seat’
A fabric velcro strap is put across my forehead and electrode pads are attached to my temples.
A plastic strip is brought down and sits in front of my eyes. It has three light sensors on it: one to the left, one to the right and one in the middle. I am told that the lights will begin turning on in different sequences.
‘Ok I’m going to start now. Please tell me which light has come on’
This continues for a few minutes. Next the whole chair begins to revolve in a clockwise direction.
‘Count backwards from 200 please’
‘200 … 199 …. 198’
‘No, just in your head’
This is repeated with the chair revolving anticlockwise.
The chair then comes to a standstill and the circular black curtain around me begins to revolve, which has white vertical strips of material sewn onto it.
‘Please follow the direction of the white lines with your eyes’
They move slowly but soon begin to blur and I find it difficult to focus on each individual strip as it moves from left to right past my eyes.
And then repeated from right to left.
I follow the doctor into the main corridor, past the reception and then up a side corridor. We walk towards two windowed office rooms.
The rooms look like a cross between a GP’s room and a 1970s office, or a GP’s room from the 1970s, clad in beige-grey wool walls and brown carpeting.
I am asked to enter the room to the right-hand-side.
‘Click when you hear a noise’
The doctor hands me some headphones and a hand clicker, like weather forecasters used to have, then the doctor walks out into the corridor and begins to operate another console.
All in my right ear
The beeps are getting quieter and quieter.
Then it switches ears and is repeated.
I follow the doctor into the windowed office next door. The two rooms are almost identical with the only difference being the furniture. This one has a reclined examination bed instead of a chair.
I am handed another set of headphones and another clicker.
‘Please lie back and relax. Click when you hear a beep’
There is a constant fuzzy distortion noise in my left ear and beeps going off in my right ear.
I click, then there’s a pause
Then the sounds switch ears and repeat.
I follow the doctor past the reception and into the main corridor again where
she leads me to the next test room. We enter a room at the end of the hall on the left.
In front of me is a structure, similar in size to a photobooth. The front is open, there are two sides and a back panel, which has a landscape painted on it. The landscape is actually a seascape and has been painted from the point of view of someone standing on top of cliffs looking down over a bay. The colour of the sea has been painted with purples and greens, which give it a surreal, psychedelic appearance.
The main part of the equipment is a suspended harness in the middle of the booth which hangs above the platform base.
I am asked to step into the harness.
‘It’s just to make sure you don’t fall over. Don’t worry, it doesn’t move much’ she reassures me
‘First the platform is going to tip slightly forwards. Please just continue to look directly ahead at the landscape’
The platform tilts smoothly, tipping me forwards. My toes press down against the ridged rubber surface beneath my feet.
I am then titled backwards and my heals take my weight.
Then side to side.
Then this section is repeated with my eyes closed.
The final round involves both the platform tilting and the seascape panel moving.
Back and forth, and sideways and backwards and forwards.
I stumble and fall into the harness.
I follow the doctor back down the corridor. We enter a darkened room. There is another examination bed in front of me and a large TV monitor to the left, which looks as though it’s been left in a half-abandoned state of storage.
I lie down on the bed.
‘If you can just keep looking up at the red dot on the ceiling.’
I focus on the office-tiled ceiling above me and see a small red dot sticker directly above my head.
‘A jet of warm water is going to go into your ear. This will disturb your inner ear balance. You will feel dizzy, but that’s completely normal and it will soon pass.’
The warm water hits my eardrum and it feels very strange. Discomforting yet also comforting, like urinating in the sea.
After a few seconds the ceiling above me appears to slide to the right.
My eyes jump from left to right. I try to remain focused on the red dot but it is constantly drifting away from me.
30 seconds in and the experience has become very intense, it feels as if the whole room is spinning around. I feel very sick.
After 40 seconds the water jet is turned off and my eyes are fighting to keep up with the spinning room. I can barely see the red dot.
‘We’ll be back with your results shortly’