Learning with Landmarks: Automatic Writing in The Color Inside

29 November 2015

During the day when the light sequence in the James Turrell Skyspace The Color Inside is not running, the space is used by students on campus as a quiet retreat. They are found relaxing, studying, napping, and even knitting between classes. Recently, an upper-level poetry course taught by Laurie Saurborn, Director of Undergraduate Creative Writing in the Department of English, visited the Skyspace for an automatic writing exercise. The simplistic environment allowed students to record a stream of consciousness without distractions.

After the exercise the class was assigned to compose a poem using notes from a dream journal they had been keeping, incorporating material they produced in the Skyspace as needed. The only requirement from Saurborn was to “strive for intensity, not linearity or narrative cohesion! Let your imagination be your guide.” The resulting compositions take readers down a highly visual trail through each writer’s subconscious. Saurborn shared two examples that “blend the worlds of dreams and the Skyspace visit most successfully.”

Of one student’s effort she says, “Annyston Pennington’s poem is built of carefully refined images that bleed one into the other. The poem can be read from top to bottom or left to right, leaving it to the reader to determine how linear or fragmented the narratives can be. The square inset into the body of the poem evokes the physicality of the Skyspace, serving as a window or a door out of or into the poem.” Adds Pennington herself, “The Skyspace was an interesting place for an automatic writing exercise because the enclosure itself is monochromatic and meditative, kind of Rothko Chapel–esque, but without the silence. The opening in the roof of the space allowed natural light and color in, but it was also possible to hear irritated traffic on the street below, birds chirping outside the space. The combination of stillness and subtle noise created a ripe atmosphere for letting the mind wander into new, weird places.” 

Saurborn says of the second poem, “[Austin Liss] avoids the commonplace and embraces the surreal. Through repetition of certain motifs, the poem assumes a cyclical quality, indicating that this amazing world of melting fishing poles and runaway mermaids will continue.” While notes from the Skyspace didn’t appear in the final poem, Liss says the visit “forced [me] to be honest and uncensored when I was writing there.”

When construction of the Skyspace was just in its planning stages, Landmarks envisioned a site that offered a reprieve from the stress of academia. The Color Inside has become a place to clear and recharge the mind for free and open thinking. Make a free reservation to see the sunset light sequence.