Opened in June of 2012, James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace at Rice University was his 73rd completed Skyspace project. It is only a couple hundred yards from the primary parking lot for the university’s football stadium, but, shielded by the Shepherd School of Music, the construction hides itself from the steadiest stream of casual university visitors.
Since first starting to consider Turrell seriously after viewing his retrospective last year at LACMA, I’ve wanted to say that his work is post-representational. The use of totalizing color spaces, the manipulation of that most ephemeral substance light, the infinite rooms—I have a desire to say that when entering one of his spaces, I exit the world of real things. I am allowed to, momentarily, vacillate between wave state and particle state. But as I see more of his work, including “Twilight Epiphany,” I think more and more that this urge reflects my own underlying desires and drives to find a clean exit rather than that of the work itself.
Because to see “Twilight Epiphany” is to experience a totally representative, physical state. For Turrell’s pieces are not a totality of light. They are first and foremost physical spaces and even more notably obviously constructed physical spaces. This particular space is a temple, and as one walks up to it and sits inside of it, one is almost forced into a certain way of thinking, whether that is a desire to burst out in spiritual song or delve into a meditative state or to fidget uncomfortably.
At sunset, the light show begins. It could be described as a light bath or light shower, but what becomes immediately apparent is the interaction between the light, the hole, the space of the sky, and our selves.
In his study on the mind-body problem, Mind in a Physical World, Jaegwon Kim writes that “mental properties, if they are realized, must be physically realized” (19). Or, one could say, we think physically and we physically think.
Currently showing at the Menil is a single-room installation exhibition by the Houston-based artist Dario Robleto, The Boundary of Life is Quietly Crossed. Threaded through Robleto’s exhibition are two primary storylines: the heart and space exploration. Though not the centerpiece, the highlight of the installation is a series of headphones on which various recordings of heartbeats are being played. One can listen to the earliest recorded human pulse from 1854, which was recorded using a human hair as a stylus tracing the pulse over soot from a candle’s flame. One can listen to the heartbeat of the earliest born human, Johann Hahn, born in 1783 and recorded in 1854.
A recording from 1882 by Angelo Mosso purportedly measures what he termed the “cerebral pulse” of a man named Luigi Cane. Mosso’s goal was to measure the blood flow to the brain, attempting to create a causal link between the heart and the head. During his measurements of Cane, Mosso began talking about Cane’s wife. At that moment, Cane’s cerebral pulse spiked. We can see this tracing on the graph as we hear the thu-bump thu-bump thu-bump played through Beats™ headphones.
The next-to-last recording is of the combined heartbeat and brainwaves of Ann Druyan, which was included on the Golden Record sent out deep into space on Voyager. The measurement records Druyan as she recalls the moment a few days prior that she and her future husband Carl Sagan mutually realized that they were falling in love falling in love. It was included on the record that, in the remote event the Voyager was discovered by an alien race, “advanced alien technology could somehow take the audible recordings of the electrical signatures of her heart and mind and decipher the meaning of a human thought.”
The final recording is also the most recent, of Craig Lewis in 2011. What makes Lewis’ recording notable is that there is no heartbeat at all. What we are listening to is a beatless artificial heart. Instead of the familiar thumping rhythm, there is the other-familiarity of steady machinery: an endless whirring.
This is the final page of Thomas Bernhard’s Wittgenstein’s Nephew, where I found myself early on New Year’s Day: