The illusion of light

I peered into the room. I gingerly entered, approached the dark rectangle on the wall. Confused, I turned to leave.

Outside of the room, I read a plaque about an art exhibit. James Turrell. Acton. Created in 1976. Inspired by flying a plane in dense fog. I was still confused, thinking it was for the art piece in the room I was currently in, not for an art piece in the room I recently left.

A museum docent must have seen my confusion, or knew that most visitors were confused by the sign. He gently mentioned that it referred to the piece in the dark room that I came from.

I must have still seemed confused. He mentioned that it was the one piece of art that they encourage visitors to touch.

Did I miss something? What was special about the dark rectangle I saw?

I ventured back into the room and slowly approached the dark rectangle on the wall. As I approached, I reached out to touch it. And felt nothing. It was an illusion produced by the lights in the room. There was nothing there. And suddenly I felt as though I was in fog unable to see what is there, unable to determine where one thing ends and another thing starts.

And I felt a pull to climb into the space, to delve deeper into that illusory space to find something substantial.

I resisted the urge, thinking that “touching” the art is one thing, climbing into it is quite another thing. And probably wasn’t what the docent meant to encourage. I decided to act the adult and enjoy the illusion between vision, light, and perception that the art created. In my mind, I let the child in me climb into the vacancy of the art and wander through the illusion of fog that it created.

I encountered the museum docent again elsewhere in the museum. Yes, people had climbed into the art before and they had to call people back out. Touching the art was allowed. Climbing into it wasn’t.

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