So this past weekend, I went to New York City, an annual trip with my upper class students in the photography department.
Once we’d settled in and get all the students situated with accommodations, we headed for PS1 in Queens. It’d been quite a while since I last visited PS1. I headed straight for the top floor, and at the top of the stairs, I saw a small wooden sign with an arrow pointing at a closed door. The sign read: James Turrell Exhibit Currently Open. Exhibit opens at 3pm, when weather permits. I went in.
I cautiously opened the door. There was one woman on the floor looking up at the ceiling. She was there alone. Above her, cut into the ceiling was a perfect square, about 12’x12′. The square served as a frame for the sky outside. Within the room, there was a thin wooden bench that wrapped around the room. And at the top of the wall were some warm tone lights, humming and letting forth an orange-ish glow.
Like my one companion, I lay down on the floor and gazed through the frame.
The discoveries were delightful, and difficult to explain. Mostly a cloudless day, the sky was a deep blue, cast in a warm glow from the late afternoon light on the sun. Somehow, the warm lights in the room changed the perspective, and that blue carried a depth that seemed and felt new. Birds flying through the frame seemed like brush strokes sweeping across a canvas, airplanes just another line or gesture. Sounds were amplified – the subways rebounded around the room, a steady hum from the orange-ish lights, cars and street noise, and mostly the sound of the wind – and all seemed more pure, foreign, and interesting.
I lay there for – lord knows how long – time became irrelevant. The more I stared through the square, the more I saw. There were moments that felt like hallucination. The blue of the sky felt infinite. A few clouds passed through. All of it felt more real. Curious to me still, was it just the frame? or did those orange-ish lights change color temperature enough to change perspective?
After a while, I got up and went to see the rest of the museum, starting with New Pictures of Common Objects, the photo show for which we all came to see. I breezed through this exhibition, full of a little novelty and no philosophy. There was no meat on the bones. I didn’t give it much of my time.
Really, I passed quickly through the rest of the museum, lingering for a little longer on Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles (I did rather like this show, actually). I just wanted to head back to spend more time with the Turrell hole in the ceiling, because something here felt new, almost like a revelation.
When I returned, the sky was almost dark, but not black. A dark, dark blue, and with the “surface” of a matte photograph. I was just as mesmerized.
Time and again, it’s the simplest things that point us towards the infinite.