Do You See the Light?

Do You See the Light?

Have you ever sat in our Library, studying after school, and suddenly looked up to see a strip of blue lights lining the perimeter of the overhead balcony? Within minutes, the light changes from dark navy to green and then finally to a rich, hot pink. Whether or not you’ve experienced this awesome display, it’s interesting to know that these lights are James Turrell’s personal contribution to the architecture of Greenwich Academy.

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Photo by Bella Cartularo

Having earned himself a reputation in the 60s and 70s, James Turrell is a renowned light and space artist, best known for his sky spaces and work on the Roden Crater, an outdoor observatory in Arizona.

In 2003, Turrell agreed to advise the building project of the new GA upper school. “Turrell is all about light…one of the things that people really wanted was more light; the old building was very dark,” said Mrs. Kristen Erikson, one of the teachers who organized the “Turrell at GA” focus this fall.

With his artistic expertise, Turrell, along with the Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill architectural firm, built our very open and transparent Upper School. They created the four natural light chambers for the building: the library and the arts, humanities and math/science wings each have their own.

Turrell then added his own personal touch by designing the LED light installations that border various floors of the Upper School. When lit up at dusk, the lights rotate in a cycle of color,  meant to enliven the upper school ambiance throughout the evening.

“I think he wants us to be aware of… not only the natural light that streams through the building, but also the colored light installation and the relationships among the different colors that come up at different times,” said Mrs. Erikson.

Not many of the current GA students and faculty, however, even realize that these lights exist. An objective this fall, therefore, is to find ways for the entire GA community to share in experiencing Turrell’s work.

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Photo by Bella Cartularo

On September 21st a small group of GA students and faculty and fifty alumnae went to see Turrell’s summer exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The showcase was the museum’s cone-shaped building transformed inside by a sequence of Turrell’s lights. Museumgoers were instructed to lie on their backs and gaze upwards as colors blended between shades.

“I thought it was amazing…seeing all the lights,” said Sarah Sacco, Group XI. “There were drastic changes of color, but it was so subtle that you didn’t even notice it.”

“It was a very personal experience, but at the same time it was very communal… you felt a connection with the people you were around,” said Alexis Stroemer, XII, who also saw the exhibit.

On October 17th, at 7:00pm, GA will host its own night dedicated to Turrell’s work. Students, teachers and parents alike are invited to come and see the light display, while the rest of the school will be in darkness for full effect.