James Turrell's 'Twilight Epiphany' Lights Up Rice University

Even the most spectacular works of art have trouble measuring up to the beauty of a majestic sunset. James Turrell decided against pitting the two experiences against each other, instead creating "skyspaces" that enhance the experience of perceiving light. For over 40 years Turrell has created his unique work across 25 countries, his most recent "skyspace" finding a home at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

This marks Turrell's 73rd "skyspace." His work, influenced by the simplicity and spirituality of his Quaker upbringing, harnesses the phenomena of light to show the wonders of the natural world. Through connecting the infinite expanse of the sky with the most intimate experience of self-exploration, Turrell's work provides a space for quiet, contemplative meditation.

The piece, called "Twilight Epiphany," is a site-specific installation and performance piece, where the sky acts as the performer. Forty minutes before sunrise and 40 minutes after sunset the space often fills up with 120 people to witness the dreamy transformation between light and dark in the heavens above. The campus installation will serve the university's mission to inspire its students, in accordance with the school's motto of "unconventional wisdom."

The tower, shaped like a pyramid, is located on campus near theShepherd School of Music. Visitors gaze up at a 72-by-72 foot white roof with a 14-by-14 foot opening looking out into the sky. The effect, many have commented, feels like experiencing infinity. LEDs sync up with the sunrise and sunset, adding a layer of magic to the already stunning natural shift, and the projections will change depending on the weather. The resulting vision is a magical wash of oranges, greens, pinks and blues, in effect tie-dying the sky. The site also comes complete with twelve hidden speakers for special electronic music performances (although the daily shows will not feature musical accompaniment).

The piece exists somewhere between indoor and outdoor as well as between fantasy and reality. The optical illusion gives viewers to experience the sky as any color they choose, yet as Turrell pointed out to Here Houston: "If you take a photo of the sky in this skyspace, the color you see in the opening is not actually going to show up in your camera because in fact it is not there... We do create the world in which we live to a much larger extent than we are willing to take responsibility for." Seventy year old Turrell is sometimes likened to Santa Clause because of his fluffy white beard, yet his ability to bring the imagination to life reminds us a bit more of Willy Wonka.

The work was made possible by Suzanne Deal Booth, a Rice alumna and preservation activist who donated $5 million toward the project. She expressed her joy at the way the work turned out, telling the Houston Culture Map: "I'm thrilled to be back and see it again and again."

Check out the Skyspace website to make a reservation. Images below were taken by Jeff Fitlow, Rice University.

James Turrell