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Bending Light


Starkwhite, Auckland, New Zealand & Gasworks, London, United Kingdom

Bending Light, 2008
Starkwhite, Auckland, New Zealand 
& Gasworks, London, United Kingdom

Q. To begin with, could you describe this work?

A. Yes, of course. What I’ve done is change the direction of light in the reaction vessel.

Q. Do you mean that light has changed direction due to it passing from one medium to another?

A. No. I’ve slowed down the speed of the light rays in the vessel in order to change the direction of the light.

Q. It looks like an illusion.

A. Of course it does. But it’s not an illusion, I have changed the direction of light inside the vessel.

Q. Can you prove what you’ve claimed to have done?

A. Well, yes and no. The pencil is evidence of the change. It is partly submerged in the water to make visible what I have done. As one looks at the pencil in the vessel one sees it bends at the water’s surface and appears larger below, this demonstrates a change in direction of the light wave due to a change in its speed.

Q. Isn’t this simply refraction, which would occur in any such instance?

A. Absolutely not. I have changed the actual direction of the light. It would no longer be accurate to call the phenomenon refraction. One could call it that if one wished but that would not alter the fact that I have changed the direction of light inside the reaction vessel.

Q. Isn’t this just a case of the emperor’s new clothes?

A. No. With the emperor’s new clothes people claimed to see something that wasn’t there because they felt they should. I would be very surprised if anyone told me the pencil didn’t appear broken and larger in the vessel, which tells us the light has changed direction.

Q. Was it difficult to effect the change?

A. No effort at all. But it took some time before I realised that I could do it.

Q. When precisely did the light change direction?

A. When I put the pencil in the vessel of water.

Q. Does this happen every time you put a pencil in a vessel of water?

A. No, of course not. Only when I intend to change the direction of light

Q. Then intention causes the light to change direction?

A. I would say it precipitates the change.

Q. It seems to me that you are claiming to be responsible for changing the direction of light. Isn’t that the case?

A. I’m flattered that you think so.

Q. But aren’t you the only person who can do something like this?

A. How could I know?

Q. Could you teach others to do it?

A. No, it’s not something one can teach.

Q. What precisely is the art work? The pencil in the vessel of water?

A. No.

Q. The process of changing the direction of light?

A. No.

Q. The change in direction of light in the reaction vessel?

A. Yes. The change of direction, which is to a specific degree. To know the actual degree is not necessary in order to understand and experience the change.

Q. How long will the light be changed in direction?

A. Until I change it.



//Bending Light (after Michael Craig-Martin)

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