Optical Illusions and Landscape as Art
During a recent trip to Houston, TX Jon Brooke and I were lucky enough to visit the newest art installation by James Turrell that recently opened at Rice University called: Twilight Epiphany Skyscapes. Turrell is best known for his explorations of light and space in addition to his focus on experiences in perception.
His newest work immediately caught our eye with its precisely graded grassy mount and exceptionally detailed clean architectural lines.
The installation projects color-changing light onto the bottom side of the overhead canopy which visitors can view twice a day at both sunrise and sunset. There are 2 levels for viewing the show: around the perimeter of the top level and around the perimeter of the main level/interior of the mount.
We attended the sunset showing on one very HOT Houston evening. We sat on the lower level on granite benches that seemed to act like ovens beneath us after a long day of soaking in the heat. But once the sun finally started to recede, the show slowly began. Ever-changing lights shining on the canopy gradually became increasingly more visible and I really started to understand what Turrell was trying to convey. The square picture window in the center of the canopy structure affords a canvas view of the sky above while the colors projected on the surrounding white surface act to engage and deceive your perception of the true color of the night sky.
Photo by bunnicula on flickr.com
What I found most interesting about these color effects was how various colors would completely alter how you viewed the framed sky. A bright white light would make the sky look true blue while a green light would make the sky look stormy gray. This made me think of those visual mind illusions that trick your perception of what really exists – like this one (do you see the little black dots? Or are they white dots?):
The the thing I enjoyed the most about the installation however were the crisp views that the pavilion created outward to the surrounding landscape. The clean lines of the architecture create beautiful panoramas of outlying views in the distance: whether a thin band of sunny sky or a well-framed vista of the Rice University campus and the Houston Medical campus beyond.