Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A New Way to See the Beauty of Morning in Northwest Arkansas

Last Friday my day started out unlike any other: I was up at 5:00 am. For those who know me well, they understand that this is nothing short of a miracle. I'm more a night person than a morning person, but that day I had somewhere special to be.

I had been invited to a sneak peak of a new James Turrell skyspace at Crystal Bridges. I wasn't sure what to expect. I hadn't really understood any of the literature I read about what a skyspace is. When I asked around, no one could adequately explain to me what it was. They would try a few words and then just get lost in their thoughts. At this point the responses all became the same: “Just go, it will be like no other experience you've ever had.”

I'll try to explain the experience, but like so many before me, I'm sure my words will clumsily convey the event.

First let me describe the structure. From the walking trail you can see the native Winslow/Fayetteville stones that cover the outside. The circular structure seats 21 adults, with the seats and basket-weaved backrest made out of limestone from Topeka, Kansas. The beautiful floor is made of stones from Paris, Arkansas. The floor directly below the opening in the ceiling is black. I can't remember what is made of, but it almost looks like soil, and is raked in a Zen-like manner.

Photo of the inside of the skyscape.

Did you catch the part where I mentioned the hole in the ceiling? Yup, that's the key. It's a stainless steel oculus about 10' in diameter. It allows you to look at the sky without a visible horizon line, which gives the viewer a feeling like the sky is coming down on you. Not in a Chicken Little way, though! It's much more gentle and peaceful. The magic doesn't stop there. Turrell installed an LED lighting system in the recess at the top of the seat backrests. The lights are computer-controlled and programmed to match the changes that occur in the sky during sunrise and sunset.

The show lasts for about an hour, and it is an amazing experience. Never in my life did I expect to experience the sky appearing hunter green or turquoise. At one point the sky went from a wonderful midnight blue to royal blue to corn flower blue. Other colors that stuck with me because of their vividness were royal purple, mauve, and lavender. The intensity is just indescribable.
At this point the sky looked purple to my eyes.

It was also interesting to talk to the other people present and discuss what colors they were seeing, because everyone had their own experience depending on where they were sitting and how their brains perceive colors. For instance, the person next to me has cataracts, so she experienced the colors with more of a yellowish hue than I did.

Taken at 7:24 am.

Taken at 7:26:11 am.

Taken at 7:26:41 am.

When the show was over, it really did not seem like an hour had passed. Several of the staff members from Crystal Bridges had mentioned that other Turrell skyscapes are often used for meditation, and it is easy to see why. I don't know what kind of setting the other skyscapes are in, but this one is situated perfectly for my tastes. I love the woods, having grown up in woodlands, so I felt right at home nestled in this skyscape, and there is also the added treat of a lovely babbling brook. Combine that with the fact that the leaves are changing here in Northwest Arkansas right now, and I was over the moon!

To really put the finishing touches on the experience, plan to bring some hot chocolate and a blanket to snuggle under (although you don't have to worry about your bum, because they went for the seat-warmer upgrade in this skyscape).

The plans are to open the Turrell skyscape to the public when Crystal Bridges opens, so I'm sorry folks, but you'll have to wait a while longer. Although I will say it was a breath-taking display of colors, and I can't wait to experience it again.

Note: All photos were taken with my iPhone.