Artist James Turrell reflects on new SAC skyspace

Reanna Zuniga

A new room on the top of the Student Activities Center, which opens up to the sky and creates art with light and color, offers students a relaxing space to forget their worries.  

The Skyspace, which opened Saturday and is called “The Color Inside,” was created by artist James Turrell and is being presented by Landmarks, the University’s public art program. At sunrise and sunset, special LED light sequences are activated to illuminate the circular room. Reclined seating along the walls of the space allow students to sit comfortably as they watch the show.

Turrell, who has been an artist for more than 50 years, said he’s imagined installations like the Skyspace since he was little. He said he spent a lot of time trying to work out the medium through which he could create his vision. Turrell said his goal with the room is to enhance people’s awareness of their perception of light and color.

“It took a while because you don’t form it like hot wax or clay and you don’t carve it away like foam or wood,” Turrell said. “It was more like a process of making a painting space in three dimensions.”

Turrell said people make spiritual, emotional and physical connections with light.

“Light has central importance to our lives,” he said. “We physically relate to the sun. We drink light through the skin as Vitamin D. It is actually food [to us].”

The University allocates 1 to 2 percent of the cost of new construction or major renovation to academic teaching and research facilities, administrative or any general purpose building on campus for artwork. The skyspace is funded by 1 percent of the budget cost of both the SAC and the adjacent Liberal Arts Building, at roughly $1.5 million.

Thea Williamson, an education doctoral student, said the most appealing aspect of the Skyspace to her is its function as a usable art piece for the people. The University commissioned the work of art to create a quiet reflection space for students.

“You have to be physically in it,” Williamson said. “It’s a very personal experience.”

Williamson said her preference is to visit the sunset sequence and she is really excited to have it on campus.

Ty Helpinstill, associate director in the office of Industry Engagement, said she can’t wait to be able to go into the Skyspace. 

“I just think the experience of day and light and dimension of the color [is amazing],” she said. “It’s just eerily beautiful on top of it all.”