Recently Belgian Artist Frederik De Wilde exhibited a square blacker than any human being has ever seen before. Blackboards look black but actually reflect as much as 10% of the light falling on them. De Wilde’s black square reflects 0.01% – one thousand times less.
There is an impressive image here. New Scientist magazine has described it as an attempt to paint nothing.
The work is a reflection of the celebrated Black Square that the Russian Malevich showed in St Petersburg in 1915. The image above is an image of Malevich’s work I found in Wikimedia Commons. The painting had huge influence at the time and I believe at the end of his life the artist had it hanging in his bedroom. Today it’s in a fragile state (with the black foreground crazing to reveal the white below), and in another echo from the past De Wilde’s NanoBlck-Sqr #1, which uses carbon nanotubes on a white frame, is so delicate that you are only permitted to view it under supervision.
But neither Malevich nor De Wilde have captured what nothing looks like. The blind have a better understanding, which you can share by a thought experiment.
Right now, what do you see round the back of your head?
You’ve no eyes there, so you just saw (or didn’t) nothing. And it’s not a bit like black, is it?
This might seem trivial or frivolous, but it’s not at all. I have a large blind spot (a scotoma), that occupies nearly half my visual field. People frequently ask me what I see there. They intuitively expect it to be a black patch.
But it’s not: it’s nothing. That’s very hard to explain. And impossible to paint. Even invisibility has a sort of appearance. Nothingness doesn’t. So how could it have a colour?