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.

Pioneers of Color Photography

The history of color photography features many key players and pioneers. In anticipation of the Cinema Issue, GLIMPSE is taking a brief look at some of them, and their contributions to the world of photography.

Paris, France 1864

Louis Ducos du Hauron, a French physicist, developed a motin picture device in 1864. In 1869, he patented a series of practical methods of color printing based on the tri-color theory and the heliochrome system. Using a series of filters, he was able to print color photographs by printing the negatives on sheets of bichromated gelatin that were complementary colors of the negatives themselves. When the positive images were superimposed over the negatives, the resulting image was in color.

Meanwhile, Charles Crocs, another French physicist, developed the similar process in his physics lab. Unfortunately he published his findings 48 hours after de Hauron patented his.

London, England 1861

James Clerk Maxwell, prominent physicist and mathematician, projected a color photograph through a series of filters to show a photograph of the original image in its original color.

West Kill, New York 1851

Levi Hill, an American minister, claimed to be the father if color photography. He presented what he claimed was the first color photograph while experimenting in an early photographic process known as the “daguerreotype.” Hill failed to patent his eponymous “Hillotype” process but did not give up on what he discovered, making a series of Hillotype photographs in color.  Over 160 years later, the Smithsonian Institution now boasts a collection of 62 Hillotypes that have been under severe scrutiny. Using spectroscopy the Smithsonian Institution has finally given substance to the myth. It was found that though Levi Hill enriched his photographs with a series of chemical pigments, the photographs the he produced were in fact faint color photographs.

How about it, all you photographers/photo-appreciators? Who are your favorite historical heros of color photography?

Flickr Fave Friday!

There’s no place like home, and this stunning photo has one in GLIMPSE‘s “Color” issue.

Courtesy of Flickr Member: lilivanili

Follow the yellow brick road to the rest of the photographer’s photostream here.

From the GLIMPSE Archives: Naming Color

We at GLIMPSE are endlessly fascinated by the cultural factors that influence perception, and it’s this fascination that draws us back to Debi Roberson and Richard Hanley’s 2009 article called “Relatively Speaking” for GLIMPSE’s “Color” issue. In it, they discuss the relationship between color and language: “what we see” and “what we call that which we see” in terms of color categorization. Beyond the linguistic distinction between “blue” and “green” that is absent from many languages, the article suggested that the linguistic labeling of more subtle color nuances is largely based on the varying “cultural needs of different societies.” More recently, Roberson’s research of color categorization among the Himba people of northern Namibia has been highlighted in the BBC Horizon series, in an episode called “Do You See What I See?” As the episode suggests, the color perceptions of the Himba people and their ability to distinguish colors might actually be different from those living in the West, and vice versa. For example, the Himba tribe might be better at distinguishing the subtle differences of green that would be generally unnoticed by the average Westerner. Conversely, the Himba people might have difficulty isolating one blue square out of group of green ones, if all of the colors in the group belong to the same color label.

This chart demonstrates how the Himba tribe categorize colors. “Burou” is the label for what many Westerners would see as a diverse group of blues and greens. Image courtesy of Debi Roberson and Richard Hanley, and illustrated by Carolyn Arcabascio.

The original article, “Relatively Speaking” by Roberson and Hanley was published in GLIMPSE’s “Color” issue #4. What do you think, readers? Have you ever wondered how your own culture and language influences how you see the world?

GLIMPSE journal is an interdisciplinary supercollider presenting the work of leading and emerging scholars, researchers, scientists and artists from around the world, on the “art + science of seeing.” Some of our contributors are independent thinkers and doers with no formal institutional affiliations, and others are affiliated with the most respected research institutions in the world. Read all about them.

40,000-Year-Old Art is Alive and Well

Photograph courtesy of flickr.com member Paul Mannix

Researchers have made an interesting discovery about ancient rock art in Western Australia: it’s alive. While most rock art fades over time, the colors on these caves have remained bright and vibrant after an astonishing 40,000 years. How did this happen? ‘Living pigments,’ the term dubbed by the researchers to explain this phenomenon. The pigments of the original painting were eventually replaced by pigmented microorganisms. These microorganisms have replenished themselves countless times over the years, resulting in the artwork’s brightness. Whether or not the artists knew their pigments would survive is unclear, but in a world where the passage of time generally decays, breaks down, and rusts relics of the past, it’s fascinating (and refreshing) to see that every so often, time is on our side.

Allison Nonko