January 02, 2016

Appointment Viewing

I really should make more of a point to watch the sunset, rather than hoping to maybe catch a glimpse of it in my rear view mirror or between two buildings.

Now that I'm waking early to work on East Coast hours, I'm actually up before the sun on a daily basis. And although I don't get to watch the sunrise per se, I get to watch the night turn into day with the arrival of its light, shining through my apartment window.

I think one of the reasons I like James Turrell's skyspaces so much is because they make sunrise and sunset an event. They give you a reason to know what time they're going to happen, and they give you the opportunity to pause and watch. If only we could all get a spectacular show by just staring up at the ceiling.

When I was in the San Gabriel Valley earlier today for some loosely-planned explorations, I decided to stretch my day as long as I could so I could catch sunset at the Dividing the Light skyspace, which Turrell installed in 2007 at his alma mater, Pomona College.

The metal canopy structure was built in the courtyard behind Lincoln Hall and is open to the public, so technically anybody can stare up at the sky through the aperture anytime they want. But that's kind of not the point.

Twenty five minutes before sunset, the colored light turns on, as the temperature seems to drop 20 degrees and the natural light begins to fade. The pool reflects the aperture above it, but it also bubbles and ripples and maybe even plays some kind of music or other sound installation. Or it's an auditory illusion, perhaps.

At first, curious visitors stop by and leave shortly thereafter because nothing seems to be happening.

If the color scheme of the lighting is changing, it's barely perceptible.

It helps to look at the horizon now and then. It also helps to close your eyes or look away entirely and then refocus a while later to see if anything looks different.

And then, sometime after the time of sunset officially passes, the light begins to change color, from fuschia to blue, purple, pink, and orange—and spectators arrive in pairs to recline on the bench or place their heads in their companions' laps.

Dividing the Light runs for a full hour after sunset and then starts up again in the morning 100 minutes before sunrise. And after that, before it commemorates the sunset again, it treats visitors to a brief three-minute light show (called a "chime") every hour on the hour, though perhaps with the exception of on the hour before sunset. (It didn't run today at 4 p.m., at least.)

I mean, the rise and fall of the sun should be appointment viewing. It's so easy to take for granted; it's so easy to just watch TV instead. And while we're staring at our screens, we're only seeing those pink skies through someone else's social media posts, and not with our own eyes.

Of course, the same could be said for Turrell's work. But until you get the chance to experience a skyspace of your own, this time-lapse video will tide you over:

Related Posts:
The Art of Seeing
Photo Essay: Hiking Through a Dream Home in the Hills
A Proper Sunset

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