The Earth turns without me 2010 

I wanted to not turn with the Earth.
In Switzerland, the Earth rotates at a supersonic 1158 km/h. Flying westward, and at this very velocity, I attached a video camera to a point thus fixed in space, and filmed the Earth turn.

The Earth turns without you, HD Video loop, 04:00, sound, 2010/2014.
Dear viewer, please refrain from trying to turn the image in your mind, but focus to the center of the image and watch the Earth turn.


Within living memory, the rotating Earth served as a device for measuring time. Having lost this function to horology, it has become a symbol of the inexorability of time. We turn with the Earth and hence participate in the global system that encompasses all living things. We spend our days on this symbol, turning with it and so becoming an allegory of what it stands for: the passage of time.

The world we share consists of the Earth and all its many aspects, everything which we can see beyond, and time.11—«World» according to Kant «signifies the absolute totality of the essence of existing things» (all phenomena as well as the possibility of experiencing them, grasping them conceptually, and investigating them in science). This is frequently equated with «universe», which derives from the Latin word universus, meaning «whole» or, literally, «turned into one». It is the totality of space filled with matter and energy, and specifically that part of it in which everything that humanity grasps as spatial and temporal happens. (See Der Brockhaus, 24 vols, 1998 edition)

2—See Project No. 0151 «Galileo’s Missing Argument»

3—See Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which in philosophical terms can be taken to imply that observing a process at the same time alters that process. The observation, documentation, an dunderstanding of a process thus cannot take place in a void; nevertheless, stepping outside the process we wish to observe produces a picture which is altogether clearer.
Our efforts to learn more about this world, to understand the mechanisms upon which it is founded, and to make this knowledge available to others are the bedrock of society, and of all economic activity, science, culture, politics, and human existence in general.

Whether we call it science, art, or simply informed life, this works best when we manage to look at the world from beyond, from a vantage point outside the system we are observing.2 Such an externalized view allows us to make observations which are perhaps as close to objectivity as it is possible to get.3

By going beyond the constraints and blind spots we are obliged to deal with for as long as we are inside the system, we enable ourselves to see correlations, interdependencies, and patterns that would otherwise remain hidden to us. Since we are ourselves allegories of the passage of time, our primary attribute is «turning with the Earth».



Every day,44—The Earth rotates 366 times around its own axis every year. Because of the Earth’s own annual revolution around the Sun, one apparent turn of the Sun around the Earth is not perceived. The length of a «sidereal day» consequently has to be corrected by this difference, which makes it last 23 hours, 56 minutes, and 4.1 seconds.


6—The speed at which any given point on the equator moves is called «equatorial rotation velocity»

7—The distance covered per day is smaller because the farther away from the equator a parallel is, the shorter it is, too.

8—The Swiss Air Force’s aerobatics team.
the Earth turns once around its own axis.

A point on the equator travels the distance of the Earth’s circumference.5 every day, moving at 1674 km/h6 In order to stand still, not to turn with the Earth, one has to travel westward – against the direction of rotation – at the rotational velocity. The further north or south of the equator one moves, the lower the rotational velocity becomes.7

In Switzerland, the speed at which one has to travel in order not to turn with the Earth is 1158 km/h.

This is faster than the speed of sound. No one was available capable of traveling at such speeds – except for the Swiss Air Force. So Patrouille Suisse8 took over, and we produced the video shown above.



If not turning with the Earth means traveling westward at 1158km/h, how can we distinguish between simply traveling and standing still?

The Earth’s rotation can be visualized by taking a picture of an object which does not turn with the Earth, such as the Sun or other stars. In a long exposure, the stars, which do not in fact move, will appear as streaks across the night sky. If the camera turns against the Earth’s rotation, the stars will appear in the image as individual points.

The same applies with the Sun in daylight. And with a moving camera.

We transformed a military jet99—Northrop F-5F Tiger, crew 2 (pilot, camera operator), diameter of pinhole 0.9055mm, focal length 0.78m, film cassette 1318cm, maximum speed 1700km/h (Mach 1.63 at 10,900m), maximum service altitude 15800m amsl.
Pictured here at Emmen Air Force Base, Switzerland, after the Standstill flight.
into a supersonic pinhole camera.

A pinhole camera is a primitive optical system that consists of a lightproof box with a small hole on one side. The image is projected across the inside of the box onto the film installed opposite the hole.

To photograph the Sun with a regular camera, we were going to use a lens with a long focal length and narrow field of vision so that the Sun would fill the frame. Because the focal length of a pinhole camera is defined by the distance between the pinhole and the film, the camera had to take up the entire width of the cockpit.

Orthochromatic film is sensitive only to blue light99—Sensitivity Range 380–610nm and red filter gel effectively absorbs light of this color. This made it possible to turn the entire rear cockpit into a pinhole camera from which the photographer sitting inside would still be able to look out.

We were to take off from Emmen Airforce Base, which is located near the western end of that one degree of longitude that we would allow the Earth to turn below us.

Owing to the long focal length of the camera, the Sun, the pinhole, and the film had to be aligned with utmost precision. Because the flight’s schedule was planned in great detail, the point on the canopy at which the Sun would stand at a right angle relative to our forward orientation during our four minutes of standing still could be predicted with an error margin of just a few centimeters.

The rear canopy was covered in filter gel, with a window left open for the pinhole. The film cassette was attached to the right paneling of the rear cockpit. Tightly strapped into a cramped cockpit bathed in the reddest light, wearing gloves, helmet, an oxygen mask, and a parachute, I had just six minutes [ B ] in which to record the Sun’s position, to use a specially designed ruler to project its location for the exposure which would take place 19 minutes later, to unpack and pre-install the film cassette, and to close the gel layer, leaving open only a small hole,1010—The hole had a diameter of 18mm, so that the image of the Sun projected onto the outside of the film cassette would be easily discernible. This would also make it possible for the film cassette to be positioned and the pinhole installed just moments before the exposure. on top of which the pinhole would be installed just moments before the exposure.

When we had reached altitude1212—The exposure leg was to be flown at 11,500 m because of the ideal air density there: low enough for air drag to be small, high enough for the engines to develop sufficient thrust (with afterburner). and orientation,1313—Due to the dislocation of the magnetic north pole relative to the geographic north pole, a compass does not indicate true west. Since we had to travel due west, our bearings had to be corrected both for declination and the Earth’s magnetic field, which changes according to the local composition of the Earth’s crust. I exposed the film to the light coming in through the pinhole for four minutes. If we were indeed not turning with the Earth, the exposure would show nothing more than a single point measuring 7.27 mm across.14
14—Other factors that might lead to a not quite perfectly circular image: the precision with which the necessary speed can be held, the course (which because of the magnetic deviations had to be changed during the exposure), crosswinds, flight controllers, air traffic—to name but a few.

After landing, we parked the airplane facing west. With the engines still running, a second four-minute exposure was recorded using another film cassette.

In this image the Sun would appear as a line, like the stars in [ fig. 4 ], since during the four minutes we were standing on the apron, the Earth would turn by one degree of longitude. In geometry, point and line are used to describe one- and two-dimensionality—standstill and movement. Not turning with the Earth, we produced a point, which besides being the track left by not moving is also the geometric equivalent of the absence of a movement vector.

The artist wishes to thank all those, whose commitment and support has made this project possible:
Ivan Aebischer, Heinz Baumann (Le Garage), Dr. Peter Braun, Jean-Claude Campell, Meili Dschen, Erwin Felber, Herbert Furrer, Tomas Germann, Max Grüter, Lt Gen Markus Gygax, Lt Col Daniel Hösli, Dr. Samuel Huber, 1st Lt Gunnar Jansen, Heinz Kleeb, Dr. Paul Knüsel, Christoph Kurth, Davide Legittimo, Urs Mattle, Claudia Meier Waldvogel, Elias Waldvogel, Nicole Mosberger, Fabio Müller (Cheese & Chocolate), Patricia Nydegger, Hernan Posnansky, Prof. Hans Tiziani, Pipilotti Rist, Steve Rosenthal, Karin Rosenthal, Col Hans-Peter Ruckli, Elio Sattolo (König & Sattolo), Markus Schaub, Jules Spinatsch, Urs Staub, John Urban, Prof. Jörg Waldvogel, Irène Waldvogel, and Hans-Jörg Walter.

Standing still (on the surface of the Earth, or, figuratively, within our society) means turning with everyone else. Only someone who is moving fast can stand still.In our human interactions, to step outside and look from beyond means to put oneself into someone else’s position. This is the principle of allegory: an abstract concept projected onto a person who then represents that concept. In this way the concept is easier to understand, because the intellectual idea is expanded by the very human mechanism of assuming someone else’s position.

Standing still is therefore a step away from self-referentiality, and it is the principle of allegory performed by an allegory, which is thus stripped of its primary attribute: to turn with the Earth. In the end, I asked myself whether, having missed out on experiencing one degree of the Sun’s apparent movement across the sky, I had lost or gained four minutes of time. Or did the Earth in fact stop turning while we were in the air?

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