Richard Serra, Tilted Arc, Federal Plaza, New York, erected 1981, removed 1989. Serra’s sculpture disconcerted many who experienced it, since it was deliberately designed to appear in danger of immediate collapse. Due to the public’s general discomfort and subsequent outcry (which led to extended litigation), the sculpture was removed, and it remains a potent example of how design can powerfully affect human perception.
An experimental installation demonstrating the phenomenon of afterimage as experienced in the built environment. Home decor 2017 The room in the foreground is physically painted in primary yellow. The room in the background is actually white, but due to the vision’s saturation with the yellow, the afterimage of the complementary color purple (produced by the brain as a balancing response] is experienced as a physical reality.
The viewer becomes aware of himself and of his movement through the plaza. As he moves, the sculpture changes. Contraction and expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer’s movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes.55
Ironically, the immediate controversy over Tilted Arc, which resulted in it being dismantled after years of litigation, reflected Serra’s success in achieving exactly what he wanted the sculpture to do: make people aware of their movements in a way they would not normally be – painfully aware, as it turned out.56 Serra’s sculpture, the addition of a single wall to a physical environment that intensified people’s perception of the space to the point of discomfort, highlights the impact of design decisions and how important it is to fully understand them through appropriate phenomenological investigations.
Turrell’s work focuses on the experience of light and color within the natural and built worlds. He often explores interior space by manipulating the element of light, either through total enclosures, where he provides only artificial light, or with “skyspaces, rooms topped by a round or square opening in the ceiling. Both of these kinds of environment serve as elegant examples of how to create a focused experience in three dimensions.57 His Tending, (Blue) installation at the Nasher Sculpture Center, in Dallas, for instance, is effectively a room open to the sky: the walls of the space and their enclosure frame the viewer’s perception of the sky, allowing them to experience the changing light and colors as a dynamic painting. In Turrell’s own words: “We teach the color wheel, but we really should speak about the light frequencies of each eye, and then the context of vision in which they reach the eye, because that’s how we perceive.58 Removing the roof and limiting our view of the sky through a single opening radically changes our relationship with the most familiar element of shelter. The sky functions as both the roof of the building and a window onto the heavens, evoking the static ceiling paintings of skies from earlier centuries (minus the cherubs).
Eliasson’s methods are perhaps more systematic than Serra’s or Turrell’s and, in some sense, similar to tests that Goethe devised. For example, his Room for one colour bathes an otherwise bare space in an intense yellow light. At the far end of the room there is an entry to a smaller room that is lit by natural light (windows run along one side but are not visible from the yellow room) and represents a normal condition. As the yellow light saturates one’s vision, the mind strives for balance by producing yellow’s complementary hue – purple- which becomes strongly visible in the antechamber. The yellow is literal and real, and the purple merely the phenomenological counterpart its afterimage. But both hues are clearly experienced side by side. A description in the catalog for a recent Eliasson retrospective provides a succinct account of the effect on the viewer:
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