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November 30, 2011 / bjh3ev

Light: James Terrell

I spent a summer in Pittsburgh, PA a couple of years ago, and one of my favorite parts of the city was the Mattress Factory museum–a literal mattress factory converted into installation museum that houses really fun as well as thought-provoking pieces. (If you’re ever in Pittsburgh I cannot recommend a visit enough.) They have a series of Photographs don’t do his work justice, but these were the pieces that really struck me–and I think it’s pretty interesting to think about how these light qualities can harnessed and used in architecture.

A really fun piece to experience was “Danae”, 1983:

From a darkened entryway, you walk into a long, white-walled room. On the far wall stretches a rectangle in lavender grey. As you move toward it, you slowly realize that instead of a painting, or a solid plane of any kind, it is an opening into a smaller room saturated with ultraviolet light.

That instance of realization, when you get close enough to see that you can put your hand through what was, a second prior, a solid blue square, is really cool.

My absolute favorite to experience was “Pleiades”, 1983:

You approach the gallery through an inclined corridor so dark that you are virtually without sight. At the top of the ramp, you sit in a chair and face blackness. After your eyes adjust, an amorphous sphere of grey-white, or perhaps red, begins to appear, more a presence than an object. As you look harder, the form becomes smaller. You turn away for a moment and back again. It grows and glimmers. But the source of light itself is constant and still.

Everyone who enters the pitch-black room treats it with reverence, so the experience is almost spiritual–you’re devoid of a major sense, so your brain fills in the gaps however it wants, which ends up being the creation of light.

Above are the plans/section/elevation, but the experience is actually a bit more like this:

Being curious, of course I used the flashlight on my phone to look around the space before I left (when it was empty), and doing so did decrease the experience the next time that I visited. It’s interesting how existing in a mysterious space that your brain essentially makes up from scratch can be really fulfilling.

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