Thanksgiving Day, 5:45AM …

This is the scene.

If you’re in the car at that hour on a holiday you will be the the only one. To set the proper post-apocalyptic mood, we fully recommend that kind of music at that kind of volume. Purchase here.

Ominous as it may seem, our destination, the Friends Meeting House in Chestnut Hill, was hardly the outlands. “Friends” are Quakers. Chestnut Hill is the tawny far northwest corner of Philadelphia. The Quakers and their meetings have always intrigued us.  Attendees sit in silence only speaking if the spirit moves them.  For this reason and probably many others they have a reputation as a peaceful, contemplative bunch.  On this day, the reason for the journey was not a meeting, but instead, Skyspace, an installation by world famous deep space/eye of God artist, James Turrell.

We were told to dress warmly, bring a blanket and arrive an hour before sunrise. The meeting room was arranged with 12 long benches in rows of three facing each other. The 50 odd souls who’d already arrived were strewn across them in their coats and hats and gloves staring at the ceiling overhead. Awhile later an announcement was made and a 4 x 4 skylight slid open and everyone who could leaned back to see, some sprawling across the benches or on the floor in a manner befitting a doomsday cult.

photo 2

It was cold the sky in the hole was black, the ceiling around it, a vague yellow. Like this.
photo 3

For the next hour, as the sun rose, the lights on the ceiling changed from yellow to pink to purple to white and back again. Slowly.  And the sky inside the hole went from black to green to purple to blue.  But really it didn’t.  But you thought it did.  Sometimes the sky disappeared altogether.  But really it didn’t.

photo 4

And none of these pictures can really do what happened justice but we include them because they are odd and beautiful in their own right.


Finally, when the sun had risen at 7:00AM we were dismissed but allowed to linger by the gas log fireplace. Donations were encouraged but optional.  Everyone milled about in stunned morning wonder.  Some probably scanned a mental checklist of the day’s menus and preparations.  Other probably just wanted coffee.  We wanted coffee but we were also a little dumbstruck by how easily our eyes can be fooled.  All it takes is the right combination of light and what is black becomes green.  Or even purple.  In this case, it was a beautiful.  A brain massage in the minus one hour of dawn.

The installation is open at sunrise and sunset several days a week through the of the year. So, gooooooooooooo.

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