Experience Sunset: James Turrell’s Skyspace at the Ringling Museum of Art

Imagine staring into a deep dark blue pool of calm water and getting lost in its depth.

Now imagine lying on your back on a floor of a museum and the ‘pool’ is the sky seen through a deftly designed 24-foot square ‘hole’ in the ceiling. Enter Skyspace and experience Joseph’s Coat by James Turrell at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.

Color photograph

James Turrell. Joseph’s Coat, 2011 © James Turrell, Photo by Giovanni Lunardi.

Turrell’s kinesthetic art is an invitation to experience energy in relation to light, sound, wind, and the canvas of a changing sky by quieting the mind and observing. Opening our senses and our consciousness to the world around and within us, while lying on a bench or the floor to experience the sky, allows and even encourages a transformation of one’s perception.

The brochure given at entry to the sunset experience states; “James Turrell wants you to be aware of your active participation in perception – and see yourself seeing.”

Entering the courtyard of Joseph’s Coat, a gallery lined with long wooden benches felt to me like any other indoor courtyard until I looked up. The ceiling thinned at the opening to the sky. If inverted it could be a sheer dropoff without ledge or dimension. The floor was a slightly inclined square with a perimeter of drains to carry rain away and which double as light tubes for the sunset show.

I placed my mat on the floor between benches and noticed the small-leafed vines that climbed the plaster walls forming elegant green pathways upward. The scent of jasmine vines wrapped around a pillar nearby enlivened the air and brought greenery to the sparse courtyard.

Turrell’s Skyspace draws us in just by looking up, and I found that it offered me a chance to pause, to listen, to feel and yes, to see. The experiential nature of his work including lying on one’s back and watching the sky change, especially brilliant at sunset, is a dance between an artist’s work and the viewer’s evocative experience: the powerful essence of art. There for an hour, relaxing on my mat, hearing my breath, I tried not to fidget. I became mesmerized watching the grey clouds pass over following a strong summer storm. A train whistle in the distance caught my attention, like a Tibetan gong just before meditation.

The post storm breezes moved the clouds quickly and constantly changed the sky as if lifting layer upon layer of veils to reveal finally, a blue sky. A bird, then another, darted through the air on a strong gust followed by a jet’s contrail that curiously, as if on tiptoe, entered the square and moved diagonally from upper right to lower left, thinly sketched as if with a fine-tipped brush, then slowly dissolved by the wind into a series of thick wavy lines. Soon the remaining thick grey clouds thinned to wisps, faded to lighter pink, then to salmon and coral and with the help of the LED lights subtly projected up from the floor and elsewhere I couldn’t discern, the walls changed color too.

Deep ocean – blue sky set in and from the deepest part of the pool, a star, then another glimmered at the edge of the ethereal canvas. Cream to green to red walls and deep dark sky descending. We were entering the night. Or, maybe the night was entering the dozen viewers on the floor and benches of the Skyspace.

“How is it,” I thought to myself, “That this dance is ongoing every millisecond of our lives, at night quietly swirling above us and around us as we work, love, play and sleep? Yet, we are not aware of it.”

The movement and realization of energy, of dynamic molecules, and the give and take of this seemingly innocuous hole to the sky gave me a chance to pause, to listen, to feel and breathe, and yes, to see.

Molecules and light beams, daylight and darkness, starlight and Self and Other. To stare into a pool of space within the dynamic nature of changing light, makes life art and all that is, the world beyond and within us, Art. Clearly, it is a glimpse of the ongoing creative process. I’m a relative newcomer to the art of Mr.Turrell but through my discovery, I am drawn back… or should I say, drawn in again and again.

One can experience Joseph’s Coat Skyspace every day that the Ringling Museum of Art is open and two nights each week for sunset viewing. Yoga mats are encouraged. Check with the museum for specific schedules and details.

By Pamela Erickson, GLIMPSE journal correspondent. Erickson is an author, artist and librarian who lives on the Florida Gulf Coast with her husband and pets. Having taught for over 30 years, she seeks writing as a form of reflection, exploration, conversation and solace. Her novel, Each Other, is available here.


Che Guevara: Life after Death Part 2

by Myya McGregory

What makes an icon?

In the last post we talked about the documentary film, Chevolution, directed by Trisha Ziff and Luis Lopez and how Alberto  Korda’s photo of Che Guevara, the “Guerrillero Heroico” (the Heroic Guerrilla), transformed Guevara from a simple historical figure to a photographic and visual icon.

Ernesto Che Guevara by A Rostgaard 1969 from IISG’s flicker

Painting and street art are often treated as fiction, and photography as fact. Yet a photograph can be just as constructed as a painting. Korda’s Guerrillero Heroico was not popular by simple coincidence. His photo became famous because of the expression in Guevara’s eyes, his stance, and the strong angle of his head overlooking the crowd. In that one image, Korda captured, with light and angle, what many wanted to see in Guevara. Chevolution doesn’t dwell on this point but the idea is very present. The directors highlight this by contrasting the Guerrillero Heroico with the images of Guevara on his deathbed, which, though more widely disseminated at the time, have not gained the long-lasting fame of the more vivified Korda photograph.

As art has evolved, Guevara’s image evolved with it. The Guerrillero Heroico takes on a slightly different meaning each time it is modified. Each artist adds a new interpretation. Some make Guevara appear more ambiguous, some highlight the eyes, some blur the background, some make him more ethereal softly blurring the outlines, some make him radiant (see left), some even villanize him. Irish artist, Jim Fitzpatrick who created what is likely the most popular rendition of the Guerrillero Heroico tells BBC news he, “deliberately designed it to breed like rabbits.”  His high-contrast image darkens the eyebrows and intensifies Guevara’s gaze. The red background intensifies the black shading and the remaining white makes the entire image pop. It is a more stark and gallant interpretation of Guevara, born of the artist’s admiration.

The Guerrillero Heroico has become a symbol for both those who despise and those who love Guevara.

Street artist, Shepard Fairey (you might remember him from Exit Through the Gift Shop or the Obama “Change” poster) makes a brief cameo in  Chevolution. He talks about Guevara in comparison to his own project, the OBEY Giant. Many have seen the stickers, screen prints, and the walls tagged with Andre the Giant and the simple order to “obey.” This image paired with the single word “obey,” was turned into a social statement about propaganda.

If “obey” was written in a different font would we perceive it the same way? What if Andre the Giant was not the face of the command? What if it was Mr. Rogers?

A simple alteration can affect how we perceive an image. Whenever we view any image, especially an image of another person, we impose a specular dominance over it. We bring our biases, our questions, and our needs. If given the proper image, we can fill in its blanks with our desires. We can construct an icon.

In Chevolution, the directors argue that even though Guevara’s image can be found everywhere, some people still don’t know who he was. Who Che Guevara was has evolved into what he is now.

How is Che Guevara’s image being altered right now? Will it ever fade? What is the next icon that will have a seemingly endless afterlife?

Che Guevara: Life after Death Part 1

Che Guevara mural in Havana from Library of Congress Archives

by Myya McGregory

Chevolution” is a documentary on Che Guevara and the journey of his iconic image. The film makes the case that Che was not only an important figure in the history of Cuba and revolution but also in the history of photography and art.

Che was an Argentine doctor who left his middle class life to join the fight against poverty and corruption being waged by guerilla regiments across South and Central America. Scholars say he was strongly motivated by the rampant poverty he witnessed in his travels. With his interest in Marxism it was no surprise that Che would end up joining Fidel Castro’s “Movimiento 26 de Julio” to take down the long reigning Batista regime in Cuba.

Che was a very well liked figure. He was charismatic, skilled in combat, intelligent, he led by example, and he was the type of activist that Cuba needed at the time.

While aiding in a Bolivian rebellion against Rene Barrientos Ortuño in 1967, Che was killed  by a group of CIA trained guerilla fighters.

Che’s life was profoundly influential in Latin American politics, and his legacy in the arts also continues to intrigue.

A lover of  photography himself, Che insisted on documenting every step of the revolution. When he attended a mass memorial for victims of a terrorist attack at the Plaza de Revolución, Alberto Korda, fashion photographer extraordinaire, snapped the iconic image that would travel around the world inciting revolution in ways that Che could have only imagined.

At the time the Leica M2 was one of the best cameras on the market. Made by a German optics company, the Leica M2 used regular 35 mm film, groundbreaking parallax compensation, and focal-plane shutter.

Leica M2 from Flickr by Shane Lin

Using celluloid film (which had been around for almost a century at that point) and homemade developing solution, Korda and the other photographers traveling with Che would develop, enlarge, and print their own images.

Che came along in a time when photography was becoming more public. Nitrate based celluloid film was no longer commercailly available by the early 1950s because it was highly flammable and toxic. In fact the Northeast Document Conservation Center points out that because cellulose nitrate was so unstable, many of the images taken on this film have deteriorated drastically. It is more likely that Korda took his iconic photo using 35mm acetate based celluloid film. Cellulose acetate was considerably less toxic that cellulose nitrate however its decomposition was equally as autocatalytic and just as caustic (it would produce vinegar as a byproduct in decomposition). Luckily for Korda, copying negatives of photos was a relatively simple process and creating an interpositive could lessen the risk of diluting the image quality along the way. It seems that Che  lived at just the right time in photographic history.

How would history would have changed if Che arrived in different place along the photographic history timeline? What about other leaders and cultural/historical icons?

Movement, Orientation, and the Brain

Eiko and Koma: The Revolutionary Dancing Duo

Eiko performing Raven photograph by Fett

by Myya McGregory

Eiko and Koma are dance veterans. The duo, now both over 60, are in fact rather lighthearted in their interviews despite putting on vulnerable and occasionally morbid performances. Now working on an exhibition titled Residue for the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, they continue to explore the intersection of performance art and their signature style,”delicious movement.”

Having  trained with pinoeers Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata, their movement style is heavily rooted in Japanese butoh.

Butoh or “Dance of Utter Darkness” drummed up a considerable amount of controversy in Japan as it emerged after World War II. Drawing its influence from the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, butoh showcased movements that originated from a very dark place in Japan’s history. Dancers would powder themselves white, exposing their ghostly, naked bodies on stage, make faces, and move their bodies in extremely vulnerable and contorted ways almost always using small isolated motions. Performances may be haunting or comical, but it is not uncommon for audience members to be moved to tears or outrage.

Performance art takes art to the next level — it’s live art that you can watch and sometimes even participate in.

Eiko and Koma in Raven photograph by Fett

As you will find out in the upcoming Cinema Issue, watching (whether it’s a movie, a theatre performance, or a dance) is akin to experiencing. When you watch you are transported. You are there.

Though the New York Times has called Eiko and Koma’s Hunger “glacial,” their incremental movements have direction, and in slowing themselves down they help the viewer get lost in the details of their movements. Their performances are long, and the average adult attention span (when the mind is not being actively applied) is less than 20 minutes. Naked, for example, was performed at the Walker Art Centre for four weeks during all museum hours. During that time an audience of over 40,000 members came and went. Friends of GLIMPSE who saw the performance said they somehow ended up staying longer than intended. As Eiko and Koma are masters of setting engrossing scenes and telling stories, it is no wonder the audience gets glued to their performances. Eiko and Koma transcend the attention span. Once you engage your prefrontal cortex, you don’t have to concentrate to focus on the scene unfolding before you. You are already sucked in.

Movement, Orientation, and the Brain

A Look at the Work of Pina Bausch

December Dance Show by San Francisco Foghorn

Scientific research has shown that we perceive art (especially movement based art) with the help of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are a set of cells in the brain that allow us to recall an action and imagine that action as our own so that we can experience it ourselves either vicariously or viscerally. This is what makes dance specifically such an emotive and provocative art form.

With the passing of the great choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch, many are reflecting on how she hacked the brains of her audience in pushing the boundaries of dance theatre.  As a master of empathy, Pina Bausch was able to explore the range of the audience’s reaction to familiar movements and experiences. As shown in her movie Pina 3D, she was able to work with a wide range of themes while always maintaining the human experience as the common thread.

Her dancers adored her for her compassion and care. She encouraged them to be vulnerable and from there they were able to understand her vision.

Her skill was telling stories of the human experience by incorporating colloquial movement language. One project that did this exceptionally well was «Kontakthof». Performed by three different age groups on different occasions, this piece unearths a series of social issues, fears, and insecurities in a lighthearted and occasionally disturbing manner. The setting however and the dancers themselves were quite colloquial and the dance moves of the dancers were in fact their own. As one watches this piece with dancers of each age group the perception of the piece changes. The same movements on a 15 year old girl will not be read the same on a 65 year old woman. What does this say about our mirror neurons and our ability for perception? Are our brains biased?

Today, more dancers and performance artists are beginning to push the boundaries of our perception with their work by considering the neural responses of their visual cues. Over the course of the next few weeks GLIMPSE  will be continuing this discussion with our readers, so share your thoughts and stay tuned!

The Collages of Anna Fine Foer: Mapping the Political, Ecological, Mystical

The themes explored in visual artist Anna Fine Foer’s work are diverse and ambitious, and span the spectrum from religion and politics, to ecology and social issues. But while the conversation in each piece varies, they all share a common visual language in that they’re carefully constructed, layer upon layer, with maps.

Title: Machtesh, Shetach, Hill, Crater (Topographic demarcations on maps use concentric circles to show geological elevations or depressions; a crater and a hill may look the same. The hill and the crater are placed in alignment with the topographic depiction of the landscape.)

The artist first discovered the technique in an abstract painting class, where instead of paint, she decided on maps as her medium. Her choice of materials was purposeful on a number of levels, as a means to multiple ends. Practically speaking, the visual characteristics lent themselves for use in a variety of subject matters: the color and pattern could represent land, architecture, sky, water. The texture could create the effect of marble on a building. But conceptually, it opened many doors for the artist as well.

Title: New York Without Us (The book "The World Without Us" was the inspiration for this collage. Layers of the city and the geological strata that are underneath it are in the formation of a well. 2009 $1,000 20"h, 16" w, framed collage)

As Fine Foer understands it, “A map is an abstraction that we accept as standing for a place.” In speaking with GLIMPSE, she recalled a plane trip to Los Angeles during which she compared an airline-provided map with the terrain below, and found the difference between the two striking. It was a poignant moment in her exploration of maps as an abstraction of place, which could then be manipulated further to construct collaged abstractions of landscape.

Title: Steam Punk Earthquake in Baltimore (20.25”w, 29”h, collage 2011 $1,800)

As the artist’s map abstractions date back to 1979, she’s witnessed a technological evolution that fundamentally shifts the way people understand and relate to cartography. And as is the case for many artists, it’s also offered new methods by which she’s able to physically construct her work —  methods she embraces, but only to a degree. Reflecting on her workflow, she explains,  “It’s important to me that it’s still very constructed [by hand], that the craftsmanship is still there. I can appropriate and manipulate [the maps] in Photoshop, but that’s as far as I want to go.” This desire for tangibility directly relates to the artist’s stance on cartography in the face of changing technologies in the field; she doesn’t use a GIS device for travelling, and worries about the fate of the physical map. But on the other hand, the artist admits that technology has undoubtedly made it easier to find materials, “beautiful, historic maps,” by searching for them online.

When it comes to the raw materials, whether their origins are an historic atlas or the web, the artist is in no short supply, and we at GLIMPSE intend to sit back and watch the collection grow.

Excerpt of Anna Fine Foer’s Artist Statement:

My artwork is map collage that offers the viewer a combination of imaginary landscapes with mystical, scientific and ecological themes.  The visual description of a three-dimensional world on a flat plane is conjoined with the depiction of the metaphysical.

Maps that I incorporate into collages may be part of the regional, geographic, geological or religious narratives; boundaries may have been altered in hopes of furthering certain ends.  Usually there is more than one story a map can convey.

My work also has more than one story to tell.  I may be trying to both describe the curve of the earth on a flat piece of paper and using maps to blur the boundaries between the natural and the manufactured/technological world, representing simultaneously land, sky, water and architecture.

Be sure to chart your course over to Anna Fine Foer’s website, here. And while on your way, why not check out GLIPMSE‘s latest issue on Cartography, where you’ll find more musings on, and celebrations of, maps.

Travel Posters from the “Golden Age”

Alaska via Canadian Pacific. Taku GlacierOur Mediterranean cruisesNewly built vessel Takasago Maru in service from Japan to TaiwanFigure in Asian clothing. Tourism poster for the South Manchuria Railway CompanyFigure in Asian mask. Tourism poster for the South Manchuria Railway CompanyFigure in Asian mask. Tourism poster for the South Manchuria Railway Company
Orient callsManchukuoPalestine LineVisit PalestineVisit PalestineVisit Palestine
The gentle art of civilized livingParis. 1937 exposition internationaleKaysersbergAuvergne Chatel-GuyonLa LorraineRiquewihr
S.S. "Paris"Paris. 1937 exposition internationaleEaux-BonnesLa Syrie et le LibanChteau de Blois. Cour intrieureVisitez Belle-Ile-en-Mer. En pleine mer en Bretagne

Travel Posters, a set by Boston Public Library on Flickr.

Here’s a great collection for world travelers and armchair adventurers alike.

Stay tuned for GLIMPSE’s Flickr Fave Friday!