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Posts Tagged ‘light’

Photo: Michelle Groskopf.
At home in Arizona, James Turrell views plans for the access road to his giant desert artwork. “Tight contour lines near the center represent the steep slope to the summit,” the
Smithsonian reports.

What is the difference between intensity and obsession, and does the latter ever benefit humanity? Read this story and be the judge. It’s about an artist in his late 70s who as a young man spent a year in jail for teaching other young men how to avoid the draft — and Vietnam. An unusual person.

At the Smithsonian magazine, Wil S. Hylton describes James Turrell’s massive art project in the desert.

“It was a cloudless day in northern Arizona,” writes Hylton, “and James Turrell wanted to show me an illusion. We climbed into his pickup truck and drove into the desert. After a few miles, he turned off the pavement to follow a dusty road; then he turned off the road and barreled across the desiccated landscape. When we reached the base of a red volcano, he shifted into four-wheel-drive. …

“The engine groaned and Turrell gripped the wheel with two hands as we climbed. Here and there we lost traction and slipped backward a few feet, but eventually we reached the top. The desert stretched for miles around, a patchwork of green and gold and brown, with the snowcapped peaks of the San Francisco mountains on the horizon.

“Turrell pointed down. ‘You see how the area right below us seems to be the lowest point?’ he asked. I followed his gaze, and it was true: The desert appeared to slope toward us from every direction, as if the volcano were sitting at the bottom of an immense bowl. ‘But it can’t be,’ Turrell said, ‘or we’d be surrounded by water. This is an illusion that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry talked about. You have to be between 500 and 600 feet above the terrain for it to happen.’ …

“Turrell, who turns 78 this year, has spent half a century challenging the conventions of art. While most of his contemporaries work with paint, clay or stone, Turrell is a sculptor of light. He will arrive at a museum with a construction crew, black out the exterior windows, and build a new structure inside — creating a labyrinth of halls and chambers, which he blasts with light in such a way that glowing shapes materialize. In some pieces, a ghostly cube will appear to hover in the middle distance. In others, a 14-foot wedge of green shimmers before your eyes. One series that Turrell calls ‘Ganzfelds’ fills the room with a neon haze. To step inside is to feel as if you are falling through a radioactive cloud. In another series, ‘Skyspaces,‘ Turrell makes a hole in the roof of a building, then winnows the edges around the opening to a sharp point. The sky above appears to flatten on the same plane as the rest of the ceiling, while supersaturated tones of light infuse the room below.

“Turrell’s work can be found in 30 countries around the world. He has produced nearly 100 Skyspaces alone. … The volcano is different. It is Turrell’s most ambitious project, but also his most personal. He has spent 45 years designing a series of tunnels and chambers inside to capture celestial light. Yet Turrell has rarely allowed anyone to visit the work in progress. Known as Roden Crater, it stands 580 feet tall and nearly two miles wide. One of the tunnels that Turrell has completed is 854 feet long.

When the moon passes overhead, its light streams down the tunnel, refracting through a six-foot-diameter lens and projecting an image of the moon onto an eight-foot-high disk of white marble below.

“The work is built to align most perfectly during the Major Lunar Standstill every 18.61 years. The next occurrence will be in April 2025. To calculate the alignment, Turrell worked closely with astronomers and astrophysicists. Because the universe is expanding, he must account for imperceptible changes in the geometry of the galaxy. He has designed the tunnel, like other features of the crater, to be most precise in about 2,000 years. Turrell’s friends sometimes joke that’s also when he’ll finish the project. …

“One thing I came to understand about Turrell was that, deep in his marrow, the crater was not just a vision but a kind of duty. The decades of struggle to gather funds, perfect the design and continue work on the project were culminating in the twilight of his life with a painful recognition that time was running out. … He had, reluctantly, shifted his focus to drafting meticulous blueprints for the crater, so that if he did not complete it, someone else could. But there was little peace in that. He seemed to be torn between the forces of obsession and mortality.

“That began to change a few years ago, when Turrell got a call from Kanye West. Like countless others, West wanted to visit the crater. But for reasons even Turrell cannot explain, he agreed to give West a private tour. Late one night, they wandered for hours through the underground chambers, staring at the stars and basking in ethereal light. Afterward, West offered to donate $10 million to the project, which Turrell, who has received many more offers than actual donations over the years, regarded as a compliment, but little more. Then the money appeared.”

Whoa!

Read the whole story at the Smithsonian, here.

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Photo: Flying Studio / Mary Corse, Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Mary Corse transformed the exterior of her studio into “Untitled (White Light Bands).” The art takes on an otherworldly glow at dusk.

Here is a story about art works that you have to see in person because the light shifts when you move.

Carolina A. Miranda reports at the Los Angeles Times,”If you stand outside of Mary Corse’s studio in Topanga Canyon at just the right hour, you might get to see one of her works come to life. The painter, who is known for playing with the properties of light, last year transformed the exterior of her studio into one of her largest pieces to date. Along the building’s exterior face, she painted a sequence of four simple columns employing one of the materials for which she is best known: white paint mixed with glass microbeads. The material is what gives street signs and lane markings their illuminative properties.

“ ‘They don’t reflect light, they prism,’ Corse says. ‘It makes a triangle between the surface, the viewer and light. So if the viewer moves, then it changes.’

“In broad daylight, the columns on Corse’s studio are barely perceptible. But at dusk, when the light dims, it is a different story. The moment the wall is hit by any stray beam of light, the columns take on an otherworldly glow.

The effect is that of a portal opening into a parallel universe. …

“Since the 1960s, the Los Angeles artist has produced a body of work that toys with light and the emotional states it can induce — using reflective and refractive materials to create pieces that can shift and change in surprising ways as you move before them. …

“As an artist, she has remained somewhat under the radar — known to a circle of art world insiders; less so to the general public.

“That is changing. [Corse had a November show at] Kayne Griffin Corcoran in Los Angeles, with works from various stages in her career — including an immersive environment she first conceived in the 1960s titled ‘The Cold Room,’ a free-standing structure kept at near-freezing temperatures, in which floats a spectral light box. …

“In May, Dia:Beacon, the temple to minimalism in New York’s Hudson Valley, will present a long-term installation of four recently acquired works covering the span of her career. And the following month, the Whitney Museum of American Art will open the doors on Corse’s first solo museum survey.

“ ‘It will be focusing on her critical moments,’ says the exhibition’s curator, Kim Conaty, ‘starting with her early experiments with shaped canvases, when she was beginning to think about how to find light within painting. …

” ‘She has not only used materials in innovative ways to literally capture light,’ Conaty says, “but to also capture the metaphysical qualities of light. And she has done a lot of it through painting.’ …

“Conaty says the work requires some commitment from the viewer.

“ ‘You pass it, you do the double take, you come back, you move along the side of it,’ she says. ‘You can’t just walk through.’ ”

Conaty is a close friend of Suzanne, so if you are in New York City in June, please go see the Mary Corse show she’s curating.

More on Corse at the Los Angeles Times, here.

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My latest photo round-up includes several from family members plus examples of my own fascination with shadows and light.

The first picture is from Erik’s mother in Sweden. I love that a Swedish gingerbread house was rendered in red board-and-batten style. Next is a funny sign about Norwegians that my husband shot in Concord. Then we have Suzanne’s photo of proto-skiers and another funny sign, this time in Vermont.

The old barn is next to the Ralph Waldo Emerson homestead. The house being torn down is the haunted one I have described before. Tearing it down revealed that it was actually haunted by a raccoon.

The six light-and-shadow photos depict a stuffed animal in bright sunlight, our front gate after a recent storm, Plato’s Idea/Form of a trash can and recycling bin, three green windows, chairs in the pocket park, and a surprising pattern of light on a window blind.

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Not everyone can be an inventor, but inventors can be found everywhere.

“Richard Turere, 13, doesn’t like lions. In fact, he hates them. Yet this bright Maasai boy has devised an innovative solution that’s helping the survival of these magnificent beasts — by keeping them away from humans.

“Living on the edge of Nairobi National Park, in Kenya, Turere first became responsible for herding and safeguarding his family’s cattle when he was just nine. But often, his valuable livestock would be raided by the lions roaming the park’s sweet savannah grasses, leaving him to count the losses. …

“So, at the age of 11, Turere decided it was time to find a way of protecting his family’s cows, goats and sheep from falling prey to hungry lions …

” ‘One day, when I was walking around,’ he says, ‘I discovered that the lions were scared of the moving light.’

“Turere realized that lions were afraid of venturing near the farm’s stockade when someone was walking around with a flashlight. He put his young mind to work and a few weeks later he’d come up with an innovative, simple and low-cost system to scare the predators away.

“He fitted a series of flashing LED bulbs onto poles around the livestock enclosure, facing outward. The lights were wired to a box with switches and to an old car battery powered by a solar panel.

“They were designed to flicker on and off intermittently, thus tricking the lions into believing that someone was moving around carrying a flashlight.

“And it worked. Since Turere rigged up his ‘Lion Lights,’ his family has not lost any livestock to the wild beasts, to the great delight of his father and astonishment of his neighbors.

“What’s even more impressive is that Turere devised and installed the whole system by himself, without ever receiving any training in electronics or engineering. …

Paula Kahumbu, executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust …  helped him get a scholarship at Brookhouse International School, one of Kenya’s top educational institutions, where he started last April. …

” ‘One thing that’s unique about Richard is that if you give him a problem, he’ll keep working at it until he can fix it. [He] doesn’t give up; he doesn’t find things too difficult; he’s not afraid of being unable to do something and I think this is why he is such a good innovator — because he’s not worried that it might not work, he’s going to try and do it anyway.’ ”

More here. And you can catch Richard’s TED Talk here. (Yes, he got on TED Talk!)

Photo: CNN

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I love thinking about sunlight and shadow. Dickens uses them a lot for Richard and Ada’s story in Bleak House — maybe my favorite book of all time.

“So young, so beautiful, so full of hope and promise, they went on lightly through the sunlight … So they passed away into the shadow, and were gone.”

Many of you know what the decades-long case of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce did to Richard and Ada’s bright hopes. I’ve come to think that it was not so much Richard’s fevered expectations of an inheritance that brought the most sorrow, but his need to fix blame. Blame is corrosive.

When I interviewed a formerly homeless Marine last week and he started telling me about how upset he was that something bad had just happened with his benefits, I was touched by how he kept reminding himself how to cope, saying, “I believe in fixing the problem — not the blame.” Words to live by.

The first three photos were taken early Saturday morning, when the effects of sunlight and shadow were especially breathtaking. (I can never resist that old graveyard. You’ve seen it here in all weathers.)

The next three were taken at the playground near John’s house. Every few months, new creatures appear on that tall tree stump. (You’ve seen previous creature photos, too, on this blog.)

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This morning on my walk I noticed a sign about energy-saving LED (light-emitting diode) street lamps. The sign is hard to read here, but it says that the LED lighting was provided by the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park. It also says that “the City of Boston is testing different types of LED lighting systems around the town and wants to know what you think.” Tell the City here.

The main reason I’m interested is that John is in the optics business, and his team is always working on LED, 3-D, and other optical projects beyond my ken. (I blogged about his Eastern European optical engineers here and here. John and Gregg tweet at OFH_John and gfavalora.)

And while we’re on the subject of optics, check out an article about “bizarre optical phenomena, defying the laws of reflection and refraction. …

“Cambridge, Mass. – September 1, 2011 – Exploiting a novel technique called phase discontinuity, researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have induced light rays to behave in a way that defies the centuries-old laws of reflection and refraction.” They bend light. Kind of like a fun house mirror.

You can see what they are talking about here.

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