Disappearing is taken from Undefinable Places In-between—a series of short essays I have written, and continue to write, under that title.


Things disappear in different ways. A thing can be physically extracted from the landscape, like a suitcase stolen from the pavement while you pay the airport taxi. Or it can go of its own volition: a straying cat.

Things often leave the realm of our senses through our own intent. Choosing not to see, touch, hear or think about something is essentially the same as making it absent. Everything disappears from our field of vision as we walk from one room to another, down a familiar street, past unfamiliar faces in a crowd in a foreign city, and even if we, again, view the object or the face at another time, on another day, the exact appearance will never be the same as the one that went before.

In this way, disappearances are common, thousands of them happening to everyone everyday, but even when the transformation—the going from a state of ‘there’ to ‘not there’ happens as the most commonplace event, the gap between those two conditions can be beautiful, unforgettable, astonishing and pivotal.

In the Russian film, Mirror, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, a boy, Ignat, is asked to read aloud from a notebook by a woman sipping tea at a polished table in an apartment. The boy reads to her for several minutes until the door bell rings. She asks Ignat to go and answer it. When he returns, alone, both woman and teacup have disappeared, and the only evidence of their having been real is the fast-evaporating circle of moisture left by a hot teacup on a varnished table.

What follows is an intense and transfixing moment. As the evaporating patch, in close-up, becomes smaller—accompanied by a spare choral arrangement with voices rising in pitch as the exact moment of disappearance is approached—I find myself at each viewing, completely taken up by this little sequence of film and sound; being hurtled towards the same point of nothingness, an exquisite, elusively precise point; one point between many others, the distance between them immeasureably reducing to a tiny spot that was reached on a varnished tabletop, on a film set, in front of a camera, in the USSR, in 1974.


Film, The Mirror, 
Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975

‘the life force of music is materialised on the brink of its own total disappearance.’
Andrei Tarkovsky, 
Sculpting in Time.

‘Because the faculty of sight is continuous, because visual categories (red, yellow, dark, thick, thin) remain constant, and because so many things appear to remain in place, one tends to forget that the visual is also the result of an unrepeatable, momentary encounter. Appearances, at any given moment, are a construction emerging from the debris of everything which has previously appeared.’
John Berger