Shotgun Reviews

James Turrell: Twilight Epiphany Skyspace

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum to which we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short format responses (250–400 words) to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please follow this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Colin L. Fernandes, M.D, reviews James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace at Rice University. 

James Turrell. Twilight Epiphany Skyspace, 2012. Photo: Colin L. Fernandes

I followed the stone path through the manicured lawns of Rice University, where hungry blue jays were eagerly foraging for insects. It was nearing 8 p.m., and the sun would soon set. That must be it, I thought, catching sight of a spaceship-like object parked rather incongruously in front of a brick-clad campus building.

If this leviathan was in fact a spacecraft, the grass overgrowing its sloping exterior walls suggested that it had been at this location a while now. Four rows of steps flanked opposite walls, terminating in a viewing platform; below, doorways opened into what appeared to be a central ceremonial chamber. Eight stilt-like columns extended upward from the periphery of the chamber, supporting a canopy of sorts, its center punctured by a square opening.

The other visitors and I were admitted, one by one, into the lower chamber. There we sat, hushed, on the circumferential stone seat that lined the room, looking through the square-shaped oculus at the sky above. Fluffy clouds hovered, suspended in space; the only indication of the passage of time was the occasional arcs transcribed by birds flying overhead. Then, at precisely 8:14 p.m., the Light Sequence began.

James Turrell. Twilight Epiphany Skyspace (detail), 2012. Photo: Colin L. Fernandes

The interior surface of the roof began to slowly, almost imperceptibly, change color. And with it, the sky transmuted too. As the light shifted from lighter pink to deep fuchsia, mustard, burnt sienna, and blue, the sky morphed from baby blue to cobalt to steely gray to infinite black. It appeared not so much a distant, ethereal sky but rather a sky whose physical mass could be perceived. At times, the sky appeared like a canvas stretched taut across the oculus; at other times, a ponderous cube that might crash on us at any moment. There were instances where the oculus disappeared, and my visual awareness was reduced to an all-encompassing monochromatic haze bereft of depth or dimension.

For forty minutes the show continued. Entranced by the light, I was tripping without the acid. On this particular twilight, I found myself at a thin place, a place of rupture between Earth and the cosmos.

James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace is a permanent installation at Rice University, in Houston, Texas.

Colin L. Fernandes is a Bay Area physician, writer, and collector. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Contra Costa Times, a Penguin anthology, the San Francisco Arts Quarterly, and the online magazine Art Practical. Colin was a medical resident in Pittsburgh, Pa., when he was first introduced to the immersive art of James Turrell at the Mattress Factory.