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.

Sharpen your colored pencils – it’s time for Color at MIT!

Coloured Pencils, by Flickr Member Rex Boggs

Coloured Pencils, by Flickr Member Rex Boggs

It’s that time of year when college and graduate students begin their new semesters, and we can almost feel the electricity as brain cells come out of hibernation and begin their collision course of learning.

Some of us in the work-a-day world (OK, the entire GLIMPSE journal staff) get a little jealous every fall and spring when students begin sharpening their pencils (or whatever gadgetry the youth of today use to commit ideas to mind).

Imagine our delight when MIT professor, Dr. Caroline A. Jones approached us about using the entire issue of GLIMPSE #4, Color for her Advanced Study in the History of Art: Color seminar students’ first week’s reading. We were both honored, and intrigued by the course description:

…explore [Color’s] robust histories as a set of chemical products, a conventional naming system, a racial category, a branch of psychophysics, an anxiety-provoking discourse in art and architecture, and a huge industry attempting to both stabilize chroma and capitalize on its emotional connotations.

We wish all of Dr. Jones’ students a semester of light-bending and mind-bending learning!

Newly discovered! The earliest color motion pictures

Lying dormant in the archive of Britain’s National Media Museum for decades, what everyone thought were black and white films, turned out to be the first color motion pictures ever made. British photographer Edward Turner made the films using his 1899 patented color film process in about 1903, shortly before his untimely death:

A complicated process, it involved photographing successive frames of black-and-white film through blue, green and red filters. Using a special projector…these were combined on a screen to produce full-colour images.

Highlights of these never-before-shared test films can now be seen on YouTube via our 21st-century RGB screens, and of course, at the museum itself, where the specially-formatted projector can be viewed as well.

Thanks to GLIMPSE subscriber, Francis H., for sharing this with GLIMPSE readers! A very well-timed discovery with our Cinema issue.

The Blues Gotcha – stumbling upon the “perfect” blue

Chemists at Oregon State University (OSU) unexpectedly discovered a new, highly-durable, blue pigment this month — what may, in fact, be the “perfect blue.” OSU issued a statement: “Through much of recorded human history, people around the world have sought inorganic compounds that could be used to paint things blue, often with limited success…Cobalt blue, developed in France in the early 1800s, can be carcinogenic. Prussian blue can release cyanide. Other blue pigments are not stable when exposed to heat or acidic conditions.”

The OSU chemists combined manganese oxide (which appears black), with novel electronic compounds at the temperature of around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, solid crystals formed which contained manganese ions that absorbed only red and green wavelengths, leaving a blue light reflection.

After the manganese containing oxide cooled, the new blue color remained. White yttrium oxide and pale yellow idium oxide were added to stabilize the crystal structure after cooling—if the yttrium oxide and pale yellow idium oxide were not added to stabilize the crystal structure after cooling, the blue color would disappear or fade. Collaborating on the work were researchers in the Materials Department at the University of California/Santa Barbara. To read more about the discovery that would have made artist Yves Klein jealous, see the OSU press announcement.

And, in tribute of this new blue tone, please enjoy this song, “Good Morning Blues” by the American Folk singer Huddle William Ledbetter, aka Lead Belly.


The image to the left was taken by Oregon State University Milton Harris Professor of Materials Science, Mas Subramanian.

Written by Angie Mah

Field Trip to The Harvard Museum of Natural History

The Language of Color curated by Hopi Hoekstra will be on exhibit at the Harvard Museum of Natural History from now until May 2010. Be sure to check out Glimpse Journal’s conversation with Dr. Hoekstra in the Nov. 2009 Color Issue (to be released in the next week).

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To view the video above please visit: The Language of Color. This video is provided by Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Red on Yellow Kills a Fellow

“Red on yellow, kill a fellow; red on black, friend of Jack”

Be happy you learned this little ditty before a foray into the Southern woodland regions of North America. This saying originated in North America as a way to distinguish the venomous coral snake–recognizable by its red, yellow, and black banded skin–from nonvemonous look-a-likes. There are only two species of coral snake found in North America, the eastern coral snake, or harlequin snake (Micrurus Fulvius) and the Arizona coral snake (Micruroides euryxanthus). “Red on yellow” refers to the red and yellow striped bands that run down the the snake’s body. Variations of the phrase include, “Red on Yellow Kills a Fellow, Red on Black, Venom Lack,” and “Red on yellow kills a fellow; red on black, pat it on the back.” Unfortunately the saying’s usefulness wanes outside of North America, where in regions like India, the coral snakes have different color and band patterns on their skin. The image above is of the charlatan coral snake, the scarlet king snake (Lampropeltis Triangulum Elapsoides).

Image by Flickr Member: Pierson Hill

“Blacker-Than-Blue Black”

Artist and Glimpse contributor, Lauren Cross, is launching a documentary video project titled The Skin Quilt Project that uses the rich tradition of quilting to talk about issues of colorism (prejudice on the basis of skin-tone) within the African-American community. She hopes that the Skin Quilt Project will become a hub and safe-space for discussion about the realities and social distortions rooted in variations in skin color expressed in such colloqualisms as “high yellow” and “blacker-than-blue black.”

Oddly, a statistic released by the BBC in 2001 suggests white people are slowly becoming the minority figure – at least in numbers – in the U.S., making up less than 50% of the population in 100 of the largest U.S. cities. It is likely that the release of the 2010 U.S. census will bear similar results, so what is this tension that Ms. Cross talks about and is so realistically felt across the board?

Posted above is a video preview for Lauren Cross’ documentary The Skin Quilt. Posted below is a montage of interviews from Kiri Davis’ documentary, where young women discuss some of the issues that Ms. Cross will also tackle in her film. Watch for Ms. Cross’ essay about the genesis of The Skin Quilt Project in Glimpse vol 2.3, Color which will be released later this month.

Additionally, if you’re interested in this topic, you might enjoy Caucasia, a coming-of-age novel by Danzy Senna chronicling the life of a biracial family separated by issues of colorism in the 1970s.