Tag Archives: light

And then there was darkness.

A triptych that acts as a visual simile between cosmic time and divine time. 

On the front panels, I represented the Primordial Era, which spans from the beginning of time with the Big Bang to the period we now inhabit. This period is considered the peak of cosmic evolution, in that nothing new will ever form in terms of stars and planets and it also means that we are at the peak of our understanding and our rationalizing of the universe.

Since our existence coincides with the climax of this evolution, I chose to place the light on the front so as to create a reverse revelatory experience. This opposes the convention of religious triptychs which rely on building up an anticipated moment before revealing the inside. It also touches on a significant contrast between religion and science, the former relying on the hidden the mysterious the unanswerable while the latter strives for exposure and revelation.

The units of light act as a simplified mapping of the stars and their evolution within the expansion of space. This is made understandable by the timeline situated in specific areas that indicates the beginning of the Big Bang (15 billion years ago) to the evolution of our solar system (7 billion years ago).

1234 The central section indicates a threshold that once crossed by the opening of the panels will take us to the second cosmic era, which is the Degenerate Era. This central graph indicates the current state of our star, the sun. Its current state in terms of its temperature, radius, and luminosity is clearly stable and hospitable to life on earth. However, within 5.5 billion years the sun will undergo intense heating and expansion, eventually engulfing earth.

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On the inside panels I represented the Degenerate Era, the Black Hole Era, and the Dark Era while drawing parallels to Christian philosophy through the main text. At a distance the visual and verbal narrative seem consistent. However once you approached it and studied the details, it creates a beautifully unsettling disruption that forces a parallel to be drawn between the fate of “believers/non believers” and the fate of the stars. The main reason they seem to be working in synchronicity is because both are following or leading infinitely deterministic paths.

10The left panel represents the Degenerate Era, which is when the stars use up all their energy and their light fails to shine. If we were to humanize this process it would be considered the stage where the stars are waiting their ultimate death; death in the sense that they will undergo changes that would completely rid them of their current state. This, I correlated with passages from the bible that narrate the immediate fate after the world ends, which is the anticipated judgment. So both are are moments of anticipation. The passage states:

“I declare to you that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. Then we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. On that day, people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. And the dead, whether great or small, will stand before the throne, and their book will be opened. They will be be judged by what was written in the book, according to what they had done”.

1718On the middle panel I used passages that narrate the fate of those destined to an intermediary state of purgatory with visuals of the Black Hole Era. Both are a transient preparation for the final eternal stage. They are also the time of cleansing. In the former it is indicated in the purification of ones soul. While in the latter it is indicated in the function of black holes, as decomposers of cosmic waste. The passage I chose states the following:

“I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.”

1921For the final panel, I represented the Dark Era which is when black holes will ultimately disappear leaving the universe nearly empty with a few particles drifting in an endless void. For this stage I chose to represent nothing and correlated this absence with a passage that indicates the final fate of the believers/non believers. The passage goes as follows:

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.These are the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, the  murderers, the sexually immoral, sorceress, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur. To those who with patience seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.Their dying bodies will be swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. To them, the lord Jesus Christ will say “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?””

This passage ultimately dictates the beginning of an eternal end from a strictly moralistic perspective. It is here where the parallel between the two different temporalities, cosmic time and divine time, separate. It becomes clear that one is moralistically deterministic while the other is objectively, or indifferently deterministic. They seem no longer compatible with one another, as their complete independence becomes palpable.

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James Turrell, you’re a genius.

James Turrell works with light in a manner that challenges our perceptual experience. It re-defines the very nature of seeing by beautifully collaborating sight with the other senses to create impressions of spiritual awakening or re-birth. Light is no longer a vehicle of information but rather is the content in and of itself. This creates an experience where the quality and sensation of light is given a sense of tactility, so profound that the experiencer can almost touch the light.

One of his projects, called Skyspaces, consist of structures with an opening in the architecture that rely on this juncture between the interior and exterior space in order to bring the sky down to the plane of the ceiling. This literal opening allows the viewer a metaphorical access into their own perception which is then translated to the sensory impressions of the entire body. This links the viewers subjective visual experience with the outside world that’s looked at and the inner world that’s looked into. This creates an interesting relationship, because the viewer is essentially peering into a framed infinity. One that is not static, but rather shares a transcendental conversation with the viewers body, mind, and soul. These interesting explorations contradict the preconceived notion of light as an immaterial source of illumination. Instead of using light to reveal other things, Turrell focuses on the way light can become the revelation itself. This emphasis on the physicality of light is perhaps the reason why its influence is so profound, since it is literally introducing new emotions and sensations we have never experienced before.

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Another example is the Alien Exam, which consists of a six-sided chamber with a  semi-spherical dome that is reminiscent of spaces used for medical experiments and cult structures of ancient civilizations. The subject is shown in by two attendants who are in complete control of the alternation in the light phenomena. After the subject is seated, they perceive light through the dome not as an optical impression but as a phenomenon that envelops and affects their entire body. The structure of the space is very interesting because it requires the subject to climb a few stairs before laying down on the solid table. This act clearly references an altar, where the subject is metaphorically sacrificing themselves; their perceptions, psychology, emotions, and desires to the magnificent light above them.

Initially, Turrell’s exam room creates a Ganzfeld effect, which is a sort of disorientation or discomfort that occurs when a viewer gazes steadily at a completely undifferentiated, monochrome color field devoid of forms and movement, without a center and without edges. After a while, the viewer starts to lose visible external and internal points of reference. It is as if the eye and brain are indistinguishable, and one becomes immersed within color sensations that are compared to visions that appear in moments of euphoria or intoxication. Slowly, these changes in color also become indistinguishable; and the overriding impression is of an autonomous light continuum. This shows how when faced with light, all other visual stimuli, such as color, are subordinated. All these different experiences leave the viewer completely and solely immersed in the activity of seeing. Even the moods that are induced are ways to connect this pure act of seeing with other, more familiarized conditions.

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A final example that demonstrates this complete perceptual immersion is the Light Space project. These floating projections made of even, colored light give off the illusion of depth. A three-dimensional illusion that is essentially considered a ‘clear space’, or a space we can step into-visually and conceptually. This completely shatters our tangible understanding of space by re-defining it into something that can be imagined. This is primarily triggered by its seductive brightness, which offers the observer, standing in that dark room an opportunity to escape to a different world.

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A Terrifying Beauty.

The Weather Project is, essentially, a vast optical illusion. As the visitor enters the building, he is confronted by what looks like a gigantic illuminated orange disc suspended from the ceiling at the far end of the hall. Discreetly placed humidifiers pump a mixture of sugar and water into the air to create a fine mist.

Seen through this soft haze, the light of the great disc is filtered and diffused so that it looks like the flaming ball of the setting sun. Then, as we start to walk down the long entrance ramp, we realise that the entire ceiling is covered in what appears to be a single huge mirror. The tiny specks of humanity we see far, far, above us are our own reflections.

That is the illusion. The reality is that Eliasson has hung a semi-circle of light from the mirrored ceiling in such a way that its reflection creates the appearance of a full circle. There is not just one mirror on the ceiling but hundreds, fractionally offset where they are joined. This makes the edges at the upper (illusory) half of the great disc appear slightly jagged or uneven, which is what makes the ball of light look so uncannily like the sun. Had the mirrors on the ceiling been level or flat, we would see a perfect circle and the whole thing would have looked unreal.

What the artist began, the audience completes. It is the visitors that make The Weather Project unforgettable. From any distance at all, people in the Turbine Hall are seen as tiny black silhouettes against a field of orange light. Minuscule in scale and robbed by the orange glow of their individuality, they are diminished by the spectacle they have come to the Tate to see.

Paradoxically, the less we look like individuals, the more aware we become that we share a common humanity, that we are all members of the same species. Against the cataclysmic beauty of the evening sun, we sense our insignificant place within the infinity of our solar system.

When I first saw The Weather Project, I thought of the sun rising through vapour in one of J M W Turner’s landscapes. But, late on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, when hundreds of people stand mesmerised in the face of the glowing disc, the work becomes truly frightening, a modern interpretation of one of John Martin’s or Francis Danby’s apocalyptic visions of the end of the world. A close encounter of the third kind.

Not only does the audience help to create Eliasson’s work of art, but, in the weeks since the exhibition opened, the behaviour of that audience has added another layer of meaning to it.

Visitors respond not only to the circle of light, but also to the mirror above their heads. Adults and children lie on their backs staring up at the ceiling, often moving their arms and legs in a sweet, sad effort to find their own reflections in the swarming mass of undifferentiated shapes in the distance.

It is as though some deep primeval instinct compels us to do something – waving our hands, scissoring our legs, huddling in groups, forming shapes with our partners – to reassure ourselves of our individual existence in the universe.

What this great artist has done, literally, is to hold up a mirror and shown us who we are.

-Richard Dorment

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