On Monday night, as a brief thunderstorm brewed over Austin, I witnessed a marriage of art, nature, and technology that left me speechless and reverent. Along with a dozen or so other guests, I ventured to the rooftop garden of the University of Texas’ Student Activity Center to experience sunset at artist James Turrell’s The Color Inside, a new, permanent skyspace commissioned by Landmarks, the university’s public arts program. Since Landmarks debuted several years ago, the program has brought more than 20 pieces by nationally renowned artists to the UT campus.
Turrell, known as a “sculptor of light,” has long been fascinated with light, color, space, and perception. More than 80 Turrell skyspaces exist around the world; this one is comparatively small, with room for about 25 people at a time. Entering the elliptical skyspace feels similar to entering an inexplicably comfortable cave—the black basalt benches are hard (but don’t seem so) and they’re angled so that it’s simple to gaze upward through the hole in the ceiling.
The night of my visit, the curved nature of the space united us—mouths open, gasping in wonder at times— as we gazed through the hole (Turrell calls it an oculus) into the sky. As the sun began to set, LED lights projected color into the ceiling and walls, creating vibrant color washes of pink, lavender, periwinkle, yellow, orange, and green. The oculus somehow intensifies the sky while making it more abstract; at times, it’s hard to discern where the walls end and the sky begins. Birds flying across the oculus become a dramatic event, as do random clouds, and a plane (if you’re lucky).
At one particular moment, surrounded by a wash of periwinkle blue and lavender, gazing skyward at an inky sky while raindrops cascaded through the oculus like diamonds, I may have had an out-of-body experience.
While The Color Inside is open for observation throughout the day, Turrell considers his art to be visible only at sunrise and sunset, during light sequences. Timing, of course, depends on the season. (Because the Student Activity Center is usually closed at sunrise, your best bet is to make a reservation for a sunset experience; be prepared for a wait. Because the installation just opened to the public on October 19, interest is very high—but don’t despair. The wait will be worth it.)
The Color Inside, photo by Lori Moffatt
The Color Inside, on the 3rd floor of the Student Activity Center (at 22nd and Speedway) is free to experience. To make a reservation, visit www.turrell.utexas.edu.