About ten years ago I had the odd experience of seeing a series of transformations, at least in my mind, of an object. At first I thought I was seeing a miniature deer that had wandered out of the brush along the Lachine canal. As I drew closer, it appeared as an object, sculpted to look like a primitive deer. Finally as I passed and looked back, I realised it was a broken piece of electrical stanchion, probably retrieved from the nearby derelict Canada Malt Factory. This experience of perceptual transformation started me thinking about how we create art objects, and how we perceive aesthetic objects. Especially interesting to me was the role of physical movement in this process. That I was running in the the hot, late afternoon outside, rather than inside  the controlled environment of an art gallery, with a typically static role for the viewer seemed an interesting approach to consider the relationship of creativity to perception.

These photos at were taken at about the 13 km point near the end of the run. To document the experience, I returned a few minutes later with a camera.

A hot day, running and looking

The sun cast shadows reducing the object to a silhouette.

In the late afternoon, I was on the returning leg of a long run. It was very warm, and I was a little dehydrated and coated with perspiration. The run was about 14km. As I headed down a gently sloped, I noticed what appeared to be a small animal. The head seemed small, perhaps the size of my fist. I strained to see whether it was a cat. The legs seemed too long relative to size of the body for it to be a cat. As I jogged closer, I blinked because what I was seeing seemed uncanny. Other people around seemed not to notice this odd animal. The shadows hid details from a distance.

From a  distance of about 100 m, the form was effectively silhouetted, its colour apparently subsumed by the dun hues of the grass around it and the deep shadows cast by the sun, low on the horizon. Broadly, my first impression was that the animal was looking over its shoulder. Thus it first resembled a cat. The grass around it was indistinct, but as I approached I realised the grass was behind the animal, relative to my approach, revealing the long legs. It was at this point my impression was that it might be a small deer, and that I had misjudged it’s size due to the interplay of shadow and slope.

The sun was low and bright, creating a strong contrast.

As I reached the bottom of the incline, its height, about that of my knee, became more apparent, but it’s details were no more distinct than when I had first noticed it. My pace had not slackened as I passed it, and the sun in my eyes further sharpened the contrast of figure with ground. I looked a head then took a glimpse and recognised that it was not an animal, but an artifact. It had apparently been placed against the fence recently. Broken glass had been placed on it, suggesting a ritual of some sort.

The object had gone from being a vague animal, to a cat like then deer-like creature, to a item of industrial scrap, to a quasi- religious icon, over the course of two minutes of my experiencing it. My interaction was mediated by distance, the particularity of the light and perhaps the particular mental and physical state I was in having just run for over an hour.

Reflections on a past moment

This event has often come to mind over the past decade I have thought about it. Thus I have to bear in mind the tricks of memory that may in form my account now. At the time, I did not have the scholarly vocabulary to analysis this experience. As  a result it is only now that I have attempted to write an account of it. I will edit and revise this post over time.