About a year ago I was covering a Socratic seminar for a fellow teacher who was out for an extended period. He’d hurt his back and couldn’t comfortably sit or stand for any length of time. It was an unexpected new responsibility for which I hadn’t had time to adequately prepare…but all that’s really quite irrelevant to the subject of this post. By the time I took over his class the students had already come to the conclusion that neither black nor white are colors, and had moved on to discussing the nature of grey. I encouraged them move beyond their well-reasoned, circular arguments and to actually do a little research into color theory, the physics of light, the structure of the eye, and the neurological processes that influence our perception of color and light. In the end, I think we ended up at an impasse with certain students maintaining that grey was simply a shade and not a true color, some insisting that grey is most definitely a color since we also must consider the non-monochromatic hues, and a few claiming that they still weren’t convinced that any of us could say for certain that what we all called grey was in fact grey.
I wish that the new exhibit,“Supersensorial: Experiments in Light Color and Space”, had been at theHirshhorm Museum while my students and I were having this dialogue. We may not have gotten any closer to agreeing about the nature of grey, but we would certainly have had a much more interesting conversation about color, light and how our experience of an environment or object can be totally transformed based on our perceptions. Some of the young philosophers would doubtless have asked the same questions I heard from exhibit-goers:
“Are the walls white?” or “Wasn’t that little room more pink the last time we walked through?” as they walked through Carlos Crus-Diez’sChromosaturation room, where the viewer is immersed in an environment lit by three sets of fluorescent lights (blue, magenta and green). As one moves through the space the distinct colors of the overhead lights begin to meld and morph. The walls, floor and ceiling change hue–pink becomes orange, blue fades to lavendar and then deepens to violet–and the viewer’s sense of the environment becomes less concrete even as it intensifies.
Moving from Cruz-Diez’s saturated interior space, the young sages would have encountered an entirely different sort of environment (object?) that would almost certainly have elicited similarly profound, but very different discussions of vision, sensation, movement and perception.
Jesus Rafael Soto’s Blue Penetrable BBL sits, or rather hangs, like some beep blue decontamination unit in the antiseptic white white room. Resembling something out of Woody Allen’s 1973 comedy thriller Sleeper, Soto’s environment adds a tactility to the disorienting visual effect of light bouncing off hundreds of hanging blue tubes that dissect the participants field of vision. The piece creates a vibrating effect in the room, like silent static on a blue and white screen. Walking through, or watching others walk through the blue nylon baleen shadows and light play funny games.
Much less disorienting is Helio Oiticica‘s Cosmococas. The opium den inspired environment felt more like an attempt to recreate a scene from a late 60s animated Spider Man episode than an experiment in light and perception. Although it might have been interesting to talk with our philosophers about how placing this installation in a museum might have affected our experience differently than placing it, say, in the basement of their grandparents early 1970s ranch house. And whether we would have reacted differently if the images flashing on the wall were scenes from World of Warcraft or Call of Duty.
Julio Le Parc‘s Light in Movement (shown above) also might have given us some interesting points of reflection–both literally and figuratively. Using only two spotlights, and some small silver mirrors in a darkened curving room, Le Parc makes some interesting points about reflection and perception. A grid of small silver mirrors hang from filament, catching the beams of light from the spotlights and reflecting them much larger on the curving wall behind the occupants of the room. A large mirror at the front of the room allows us to see a 360 degree view. Small movements in the hanging grid are reflected and translated as big arching, and spinning starlike lights on the back wall. Our thinkers might have found any number of metaphors to talk about the distorting effect of reflection. Any of which would likely have taken us beyond our simple discussion of grey.
As a teacher, I found Supersensorial… a befitting title for this exhibit. Science and art meet in this exhibit to create interesting environments that should elicit discussions and explorations beyond the typical “what do you think the artist was trying to say” lessons that too often are the basis for a visit to the art museum. Forcing us to interact with art, and the environment, in different ways, Supersensorial opens a world of possibilities for interdisciplinary investigation.