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.

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.

Renaissance Visions in “The Legend of the True Cross”

Image courtesy of Jakob Montrasio, MK Media Productions.

Piero della Francesca, like many other artists of the Renaissance, sometimes used linear perspective despite the fact that it would be impossible to view his work from the correct station point when on display … For him, perspective was not merely a technical  convention for representing a physically correct world. It was just one of many devices that could be adapted for use for other, non-optical ends. Our hypothesis is that the perspective in Piero’s fresco cycle depicting The Legend of the True Cross in the cappella maggiore of San Francesco in Arezzo is less about coherent space than about drawing attention to important narrative details … by which the artist hoped to instill in the viewer a sense of spiritual rapture.

Excerpt from Drs. Robert Belton and Bernd Kersten’s “Vision and Visions in Pierro della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross.”  Issue 6, Visions. Read the full article in GLIMPSE’S Visions issue at www.glimpsejournal.com.

Slooooooooooow Dowwwwwn with International Slow Art Day

snail vs. truck

Image Courtesy of Flickr member, Robert Thomson (Thanks, Robert!)

Saturday, April 17 is the 2nd annual International Slow Art Day. Part of the global grassroots Slow Movement, Slow Art Day encourages visual awareness and critical thinking through the close observation of art. Needless to say, any event that encourages visual attention and critical thinking is right up Glimpse‘s alley.

Glimpse staff will be slowing down and seeing at the acclaimed Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), in Salem, Massachusetts (USA) — one of 47 participating art institutions worldwide. Participants will view select pieces exploring themes of power, at a leisurely pace and then discuss the experience with other participants over lunch in the atrium café. Join us!