October 18, 2013

Dark Matters

What happens when you look into the dark?

When there is no light, no one breathing beside you?

When you don't know how large or small the room is, only that you've walked into one and sat down?

Are you supposed to see something?

Are you supposed to see nothing?

What happens when you do see something, advancing towards you, pulsing, blossoming petals of purple, then black?

Is this psychedelic show what you want to see? Or is someone showing it to you?

One of my greatest fears is not being able to see. I often dream of blindness, the nightmarish sensation of not being able to open my eyes in strong wind or blaring sunlight, the struggle to lift the lids as I fall backwards into an unknown abyss. I don't like walking into a dark room, and often leave the lights on in my apartment, even in the daylight, so they're already on when I return at night. My night terrors have gotten so bad, I occasionally have to sleep with at least one dim light on - more than a nightlight, less than the floor lamp - because when I inevitably wake up and open my astigmatic eyes, I'll see a giant spider climbing the pull string up to my ceiling plan, or two men walking through my kitchen door, or a figure standing over my bed, all the furniture in the sitting area rearranged, or sometimes gone. And as I blink, letting the light in as my pupils dilate, the haunting images disappear, and the scene returns to normal.

But what happens if there's no light to let in? Is it possible to see nothing?

Even if I were blind, wouldn't I see something?

I've often said that I hope there's a vast nothingness after you die. I'm exhausted. I can't handle the idea of an afterlife, or, God forbid, reincarnation. I want it to be over.

But, in my conscious state, I don't want to walk into a black room, alone with my own breath, and wait for something to happen.

However, this is what I chose to do when I entered the James Turrell Dark Space called Dark Matters, a contrasting experience after the overstimulating "hard" version of the Light Reignfall perceptual cell.

The world is full of optical illusions - staring at a solid color for a minute and then looking at an American flag to see its color scheme flipped to the other side of the color wheel - so it's not surprising that after so many lights were flashed before my eyes (regardless of what pattern my brain put them into), I'd see something in a dark room, other than a blackened tableau.

What is surprising is how little other people see, how many people are capable of entering the vast expanse of nothingness and coming back out unchanged.

When I came out of the room, the security asked, "Well, how was it?" and I regaled him with descriptions of a dim, purple funnel of light, encircled by human-like figures. He chuckled and said, "Well, you're one of the lucky few..."

"Wait, other people don't see that?" I asked, suddenly self-conscious.

"Most people come out and say they didn't see much at all."


I'm not entirely crazy, because Turrell's concept for Dark Matters is to let the viewer's eyes adjust, and then let a faint glow emanate from a low-wattage incandescent bulb. It's so dim, you still can't see the room, so all you can see is the light itself, which bounces off nothing.

Maybe it's because, in life, I choose to see rather than not see. I choose to speak, listen, hear, taste, feel, dream, wake, absorb, plunge. I am soaking it all in.

Perhaps where there is no light, the light will come from within.

Related Posts:
James Turrell Turned My Eyeballs Inside-Out
A Cell for All Perceptions

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