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Reframing Reality: “Hidden Third”
by Marta Pienkosz

April 2024

In the dynamic realm of contemporary art, a profound exploration unfolds—the delicate balance between presentation and representation. In today's era, characterized by the proliferation of social media, metaverse, and cutting-edge technologies that open doorways to alternate realities, the distinction between the tangible and the virtual, the real and the artificial, has grown increasingly blurred. This prompts one to ponder whether there exists an ultimate, universally correct perception—a precise vantage point from which one can discern authenticity from illusion. In response, the Hidden Third installation takes viewers on a journey into the rich tapestry of existence, immersing them in the source of subjectivity, emphasizing the notion that one’s perception shapes one’s reality. The installation waves together five distinct pieces, all linked by the shared material of cotton gauze. In doing so, it offers valuable insight into the multifaceted nature of existence.

Project Desciption

At the heart of the Hidden Third lies a single thread—a cotton gauze cloth—that takes on an array of forms: scanned, suspended, projected upon, printed through, and superimposed (Figure 1). These transformations alter the very essence of the fabric, blurring the lines between reality and representation, authenticity and illusion, the real and the artificial. Transcending beyond the mere material transformation, the installation prompts the viewer to reflect on the multidimensionality of identity and perception— how many versions of selves may exist within and beyond our immediate realities?

This interplay echoes with the dynamic nature of transreality, merging distinctions between the physical world, virtual realms, and our subjective perceptions. It pays homage to the concept of the Hidden Third coined by Nicolescu in the late 20th century. The Hidden Third embodies a reconciling perspective that transcends apparent contradictions, fostering a deeper comprehension of interconnectedness and unity.

Figure 1: Hidden Third, 2024 (own photograph)

Literature review

To establish the foundation for this project, it is crucial to introduce the study of the intricate relationship between perception and reality, put forth by Edmund Husserl. According to Husserl, "different levels of reality of the object are accessible to knowledge thanks to the different levels of perception which are potentially present in being" (Husserl, 1966, qtd. in Nicolescu 93). In essence, as individuals explore their perceptual experiences, they transcend surface appearances and gain access into hidden dimensions of reality, even if those dimensions are not immediately apparent.

Physicist and philosopher Basarab Nicolescu, further built on Husserl’s ideas by introducing a concept of the Hidden Third (Nicolescu 94). This concept challenges the binary understanding of self and the environment, suggesting that both are immersed in a hidden dimension that extends beyond this duality (Nicolescu 95). This hidden dimension represents a deeper level of reality that can be accessed by adopting a transdisciplinary approach and embracing non-binary thinking. According to Nicolescu, by acknowledging these diverse levels of reality, a more profound and comprehensive understanding of the world and personhood can be attained (96). The ideas presented by these philosophers illuminate the intriguing truth of how new layers emerge from interactions among individual objects and shifts in perception, thereby opening up new dimensions of understanding complex systems and phenomena.

Several artists have addressed how perception influences one’s understanding of reality. While their approaches may differ, the common thread that unites them lies in their profound examination of the human experience, the boundaries of language, and the ever-evolving relationship between the self and the surrounding world. Among them, Joseph Kosuth stands as a trailblazing figure within the realm of conceptual art, placing a profound emphasis on the primacy of ideas and concepts over physical forms.
His work consistently delves into the linguistic nature of all artistic propositions, regardless of their historical or contemporary origins, and irrespective of the medium employed in their creation ("MoMA Highlights" 257). Notably, his iconic piece, One and Three Chairs (1965, Figure 2), prompts viewers to question the boundaries of representation and engage in philosophical inquiries about the interplay between images, words, and reality. When both a photograph and a dictionary definition portray a chair standing nearby, what distinguishes their respective functions—does one carry a greater sense of ‘reality’ than the other? ("MoMA Highlights" 257).

Figure 2. One and Three Chairs, 1965 (Kosuth)

By juxtaposing these various modes of representation, image, language and physical object, Kosuth challenges preconceived notions of reality by suggesting that each representation offers a different facet of the chair's existence, and none of them can claim an absolute or superior significance. By doing so he encourages viewers to recognize that reality is not singular but multifaceted, shaped by the diverse ways of representing and understanding the objects. Kosuth's take on the multiplicity of representations is particularly insightful. Here, a single object assumes a myriad of forms of representation, each with its unique purpose. Similarly, the Hidden Third portrays a cloth in numerous ways, prompting contemplation regarding which mode of representation best encapsulates its true, authentic essence.

Similarly to Kosuth, Olafur Eliasson engages with the viewer's perception of what constitutes reality. However, rather than challenging viewers to think critically about the relationships between objects and language, Eliasson creates environments that alter how viewers perceive reality’s fundamental qualities— space, light, and color. In his artistic practice, Eliasson delves into the captivating space that exists between phenomena and their interpretations—an arena that precedes the solidification of reality (Grynsztejn 41). He does so by skillfully navigating the intricate interplay between minimal clarity and rich tactility, the natural and the artificial, the evanescent and the concrete, and the literal and the metaphoric, making his art particularly thought-provoking (Grynsztejn 53). The installation Room for one color, for instance, features an empty space illuminated solely by monochromatic yellow light, casting every observer in a uniform grayish hue. This exploration of the transient nature of light, confined within the tangible solidity of the enclosed space, illustrates the profound impact of artificial lighting on sensory engagement within a natural environment.

Eliasson's conceptual approach finds its roots in the philosophical school of phenomenology, which places profound emphasis on the inner workings of consciousness (Grynsztejn 53). This philosophical tradition, largely influenced by the early twentieth-century writings of Edmund Husserl, explores the concept of an indivisible self-presence (Grynsztejn 53). This concept "marks the site both of consciousness itself and of the reality from which all experience devolves” (Grynsztejn 53). Through his artistic endeavors, Eliasson seeks to make observers keenly aware of their integral role in the spectacle. As he explained in relation to Beauty (1993, Figure 3), his aspiration is to empower the viewer by providing them with "a critical position, or the ability to criticize one’s own position in this perspective” ("Pressplay" 184). The artwork, situated within a dimly lit space, consists of a row that releases a delicate mist from the ceiling into a radiant beam of spotlight.

Figure 3: Beauty, 1993 (Eliasson)

When viewed from specific angles, a rainbow materializes on the body of water, with hues shifting in intensity or vanishing altogether as the viewer moves. In this way, Eliasson transforms viewers into active participants in the intricate act of perceiving and comprehending the world that surrounds them, thus guiding them towards a heightened awareness of their state of existence.

Yet, at its essence, Eliasson's art delves deeper, echoing the age-old philosophical inquiry: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Similarly, in Eliasson's artwork, the rainbow only comes into being in the eye of the observer, suggesting that the presence of a witness is integral to the manifestation of the art itself. Does the artwork truly exist, then, without an observer to witness its illusion?

Hidden Third further explores this question, notably with its central projection resembling mist-like shadows that responds to the movements of viewers within the space (Figure 4). This projection materializes only when someone enters, highlighting how reality is influenced by our active observation. Only those attuned to self-presence notice the projection's responsiveness. Other elements of the installation also delve into the concept of transience, exploring notions of destruction and disappearance. Each artwork within the installation intertwines with this theme, whether revealing fabric patterns without the fabric itself, distorting scans until they dissolve into a mist, or deconstructing fabric into individual threads. This prompts reflection on the nature of existence, can one say to exist objectively or only in one’s perception?

Figure 4: Hidden Third, 2024 (own photograph)

Furthermore, Elliason in his work recognizes a singular perspective of reality, one that designates the ideal vantage point for viewers to fully appreciate his art. With intention, he prompts viewers to contemplate the delicate boundary that separates presentation from representation, the genuine from the illusory, all while adhering to this singular mode of existence. He thus acknowledges the binaries inherent in our understanding of reality—a phenomenon either occurs or it does not. However, what if there are myriad facets to our own being?  Hidden Third responds to this question by presenting fabric in a diverse array of forms, thereby alluding to the manifold nature of objects and their existence as perceived through different lenses. It thus suggests that objects, much like our own beings, possess an intricate and layered reality that becomes apparent when viewed from various perspectives.

In contrast to Eliasson, who centers his focus on the immediate experience of phenomena, Jesús Rafael Soto embarked on a profound exploration of the idea that the world is not composed of isolated entities but rather a web of interconnected relationships. His body of work served as an intricate examination of these interconnections, with a particular focus on how the human visual system perceives and interprets them. Unlike many of his fellow artists in the Op art and Kinetic art movements, Soto was not merely interested in crafting optical illusions but in capturing the “impressions generated by spatial relations among objects, planes and the audience observing the interactions between these elements” (Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw).
In his renowned series Penetrables, which began in 1967 and continued thereafter (Figure 5), Soto pushed the boundaries that conventionally separated viewers from artworks. Within the confines of his sculptures, consisting of hanging arrays of suspended plastic tubes, the viewer and their surroundings seemed to meld and blend together. As Soto himself explained, the concept behind this was to "create the effect of having the individual and the world in a different spot than they were initially because they have both been absorbed by one another. The only thing that’s left is the perceptual impression of fullness” (Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw).

Figure 5: The Houston Penetrable, 2014 (Soto)

This shift in perspective challenges viewers to observe their surroundings from a different vantage point, providing them with a space to explore various ways of perceiving and engaging with the world. It fosters a deeper understanding of the multifaceted nature of the world, challenging the notion of a singular, fixed reality in favor of a more nuanced, multi-dimensional comprehension of our existence—one that recognizes the profound influence of our interaction with the world on our perception of it.

Creative Outcome

Hidden Third draws inspiration from the material quality and the deliberate use of spatial dimensions evident in the works of Elliason and Soto. It transcends the confines of two-dimensional planes, as seen in Kosuth's work, immersing viewers within an installation. The placement of viewers within the artwork's core prompts them to shift their vantage points, thereby altering their reading and perspective of the works.

The installation consists of five pieces, each crafted from the same cotton gauze cloth yet transformed through an array of techniques—such as scanning, pattern reprinting, suspension, projection, deconstruction, and superimposition. At its core, cotton embodies multiple functions, being both universally prevalent and intimately close to our skin, often reflecting some aspects of our culture and personality. From a conceptual perspective, threading embodies one of the most fundamental algorithms, where intricate systems are crafted to generate larger patterns. In this installation the cotton pieces come together within a cohesive space, unified by the primal essence of the material. They offer a unique reinterpretation of cotton's fundamental purpose, prompting us to reassess its multifaceted nature.

This installation not only showcases the versatility of cotton but also prompts contemplation on the myriad dimensions within ourselves. By portraying the multifaceted nature of this ubiquitous material, the Hidden Third aims to inspire a deeper understanding of the intricate relationship between perception and identity. It reinforces the notion that reality is a complex interplay of interconnected relationships among objects, each influencing our unique interpretation of the world.

Discovery Process
The exploration of dimensionality of perception behind this project was inspired by influential thinkers such as Frank Rose, Oliver Grau, and Basarab Nicolescu, whose ideas ignited profound reflections on the transformative impact of new technologies on our sense of immersion and reality perception. This initial exposure led to broader contemplations about our collective experience of the world, the concealed layers beneath our everyday existence, and the intriguing prospect of parallel universes coexisting alongside our own.

As I delved deeper into reflecting on the nature of existence, I carefully considered how to explore and express these questions through artistic means. This led me to investigate Moiré patterns formed by the overlapping of closely aligned sets of patterns, creating apparent movement due to their interference (Figure 6). These patterns have emerged as an especially direct visual metaphor, revealing something hidden through their interaction.

Figure 6: Moiré Patterns (Oster and Nishijima 53)

The influence of Joseph Kosuth and his iconic piece One and Three Chairs became a pivotal point in my creative journey. Kosuth's exploration of an object's reality contingent on its portrayal deeply resonated with me. In adapting his idea, I opted for the versatile medium of cotton gauze instead of a chair, allowing for a myriad of representational forms.

With a refined conceptual foundation established, I immersed myself in the creative process, envisioning and sketching potential works for the exhibition. Initially, for the interactive component, I experimented with sensors, exploring both LilyPads Light Sensors and conductive ink in conjunction with Arduino to gather data. I then transferred this data to TouchDesigner using Serial DAT and applied various Texture Operators to manipulate the final image. However, the readings of the conductive ink weren’t very reliable, leading me to opt for alternating a real-time camera image. Using Cache Select TOP in Touchdesigner I have programmed the image from the camera to only appear when there was movement in the space. This image was then masked onto a particle system, creating a visual effect where the image appeared as floating points reminiscent of shadows rather than a direct representation.

Figure 7: Altering a real-time camera image in Touchdesigner (own photograph)

The second piece is composed of scans of randomly arranged fabric. These were designed digitally and altered in Touchdesigner, employing feedback to perform a vertical pixel displacement, in order to shove a visually intriguing result (Figure 8). Arranged one below another, the images offer an intriguing narrative of gradual fading, bringing forward the notion of the ephemerality of existence.

Figure 8: Vertical Pixel Displacement, Hidden Third, 2024 (own photograph)

As I delved into the conceptual nature of my installation, my thoughts naturally gravitated towards more existential themes, leading to the exploration of destruction and disappearance through experimentation. This exploration is embodied in two additional pieces: one involving the deconstruction of fabric to individual threads symbolizing impermanence (Figure 9), and the other using ink to reprint fabric texture on paper, creating an absence of the original material.

Figure 9: Dethreading, Hidden Third, 2024 (own photograph)

To inform the conceptual nature of my installation, I incorporated pieces of my free writing employing the metaphor of a falling tree in a forest. My writing explored philosophical questions regarding perception and reality, reflecting on the texts I had studied in preparation for this installation. These writings were strategically integrated into the installation to provoke a contemplative response from observers. As visitors traverse through my installation, they are encouraged to reflect on fundamental questions about the nature of reality, pondering the extent to which our observations shape and define what is considered real.

Figure 10: Superimposition, Hidden Third, 2024 (own photograph)

To align with the ongoing theme of fabric, I chose to incorporate these pieces into smaller boxes covered with fabric, reminiscent of stretched canvases. Instead of directly inscribing the text onto the canvas, I opted to position it behind the fabric, purposefully concealing it from viewers. This deliberate placement encourages observers to shift their perspective, prompting them to uncover the hidden text— Hidden Third.

Challenges and Future Iterations

When it comes to the conceptual aspect, it required a considerable amount of time and experimentation before I reached a point where I was truly satisfied with the direction. The topic I chose was quite challenging and deeply abstract. Yet, as I explained it to people, they found it to be not only beautiful but also incredibly intriguing. This often led to engaging discussions about the nature of reality and perception, which in turn made me feel like I had successfully achieved my goal of sparking meaningful conversations.

The overall aesthetic of my project was also very well-received. However, looking back, I wish I had invested more time in planning the lighting scheme beforehand. The warm illumination on the wooden boxes clashed with the colder light of the projection, somewhat diminishing the overall visual impact. Despite this minor setback, I am overall quite pleased with how everything turned out.

Moreover, after encountering some challenges with Capacitive Touch, I initially set aside the idea. However, I now believe it would be beneficial to revisit and incorporate it into my future projects. I see a strong connection between this concept and my practice in painting. Adding interactivity to paintings, which are traditionally not meant to be touched in gallery settings, could introduce an intriguing dimension to my work.

Moving forward, one aspect I'm contemplating is how to make users more aware of the main projection and its responsiveness to the movement within the space. I remain somewhat uncertain about this because some visitors tended to view my installation from a distance and didn’t realize the interactive nature of the projection. However, the core concept behind the projection was to emphasize the idea of self-presentation, which plays a crucial role in our critical evaluations of perception and identity. While it may seem disappointing that only the most observant visitors noticed the projection's responsiveness to their movements, it's worth noting that those who did were genuinely thrilled by the realization. Perhaps this selective discovery adds yet another layer of depth for those who engage most deeply with the installation.

I see this project as just the beginning of my artistic exploration, and I am eager to continue working with these themes. Embracing the questions I've been grappling with and seeing them come to life in the art pieces has been a rewarding experience. I believe there is still so much more to uncover, and I look forward to witnessing how this exploration evolves and shapes my practice in the coming years.


I envision Hidden Third as a gateway to perpetual discovery, a reflection of the dynamic and multifaceted nature of the world itself. It delves into questions about what comprises reality, one's place within it, and what role does perception plays in shaping our understanding. Embracing intricacy and curiosity, I hope this project becomes a journey of self-discovery, an exploration of one's artistic heritage, and an enduring invitation to delve into the limitless dimensions of the human experience.


Eliasson, Olafur. "Beauty, 1993." Photographed by Anders Sune Berg. Olafur Eliasson Studio, Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.

Grau, Oliver. Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion. MIT Press, 2003.
Grynsztejn, Michael. "Attention Universe: The Work of Olafur Eliasson." Olafur Eliasson, Phaidon, 2002.

Kosuth, Joseph. "One and Three Chairs." The Museum of Modern Art, Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.
MoMA Highlights. The Museum of Modern Art, 2004. Revised Edition. Originally published in 1999.

Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. "Jesús Rafael Soto." The Other Trans-Atlantic: Kinetic and Op Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America 1950s – 1970s, 2016,

Nicolescu, Basarab. "The Hidden Third as the Unifier of Natural and Spiritual Information." Cybernetics and Human Knowing, vol. 22, no. 4, 2015, pp. 91-99.
Oster, Gerald, and Nishijima, Yasunori. “Moiré Patterns.” Scientific American, vol. 208, no. 5, 1963, pp. 54–63. JSTOR, Accessed 22 Nov. 2023.

Parry, Richard. Sensory Systems. Anomie Publishing, 2016. Host institution: Grundy Art Gallery.

Rose, Frank. The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories. Norton, 2011.

Pressplay: Contemporary Artists in Conversation. Phaidon, 2005.

Soto, Jesús Rafael. "The Houston Penetrable." Photographed by Carrithers Studio. The New York Times, 8 May 2014, Accessed 1 Dec. 2023.