Tag Archives: shadows

The Shadow Knows

We tend to design our living spaces with light in mind. It’s only natural: We need to see our environment – and through windows, the outside – to know things like time of day, where that object you don’t want to trip over is, whether that’s a brown shoe or a black, and so on. Light helps. That’s why so many brains have set themselves to the task of creating the best sources of light, natural and artificial. Control of light is a marker of civilization and – even if you hate compact fluorescents – progress.

We think about darkness, too, and not just in ways we can obliterate it with light. During sleep hours, in a movie theater, in moments of middle-of-the-night contemplation, for star-gazing – for most of us, the darker the better.

window well

But, lately, it’s shadows I’ve been considering. Not the necessary and mood-enhancing umbral pools at rooms’ edges, in places where table and task lighting pay no attention. No, it’s now that Spring is in the air, and the sun is higher in the sky and in spots that the  winter sun could only aspire to … it’s now that the light is hitting objects we’ve placed in windows and on doors, and reflecting off things sitting on tables and sills, and so creating designs and patterns, splashes of color and amorphous mandalas all over the walls and floors of lucky rooms. And these shadows, like Plato’s, reveal the world and the shape of structures in it that direct observation never shows us; in fact, the shadows uncover shapes and elements and physical relationships that we are totally unaware of without their assistance.

blinds

Today I have seen the sun behind tilted venetian blinds – bars and taut lines in slashes across the floor; the golden reflected light from a teapot jiggling on the wall; window grates leaving fade-in/fade-out hash marks across plant leaves. And there are some intricate weavings and playful squiggles the origins of which I still can’t determine: the light is coming from somewhere, hitting something, and projecting beauty.

glass

This is art of an improvised nature: light, as if conscious, as if sentient, playing off solids like a percussionist utilizing alleyway trash receptacles as a drum kit. Or like water, finding its way around and through even the smallest cracks and flaws, pouring in.

windowsill

We design our places for light. Perhaps we should just as purposely and consciously design our spaces for the shadows that can be thrown like ideas, sketched like gesture drawings on the canvasses of our rooms … and, just as ethereally, vanish, to return the next time, only different, a new work, a surprising bit of art.

x marks the spot

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Spring

It is as if you are going from a two-dimensional world into a three-, not just a changeover into Technicolor, as Dorothy did when she crash-landed in Munchkinland. Spring fleshes out our world, and it isn’t just a matter of paint, although the hues are stimulating in their own right. There are two things that happen: one is the arrival of stronger light-filled days as the sun traverses its lengthening arc, and the result is the return of shadows. Shadows always create a sense of depth and substance; “he casts a long shadow” is precisely what is happening in the landscape, filling out from its wintry flatness. The other thing that happens is, that as trees and shrubs leaf out, they create more volume instead of just line, sort of like a puffed-up blowfish in danger mode. The tree’s armature of organic lines is truly welcome in the starkness of winter, but come spring, it renders foreground, middle ground and background more fully by obscuring what’s around and behind it and, also, the distances between things.

I am watching the process in its state of becoming. The trees look like largish twigs, as they have for about five months now, then, miraculously, small protuberances begin emerging from every terminus. The Q-tip-like branches, over the course of weeks, slowly start to resemble the magician’s bouquet sprouting from his thin cane. Already in early leaf, spatially defined clusters appear, causing the eye to dart from one feathery group to another, some close, some distant and less distinct. The same thing occurs with smaller shrubs as they veil the unveiled, adding perspective and mystery to that which previously had been bare bones. All this layering creates depth.

In a woody-plants class for landscape architecture, our final project was a spring-bloom journal. The task was to watch buds daily for a month and record the changes of the shapes of the soon-to-flower plants. Not at all like watching paint dry; the buds seemed initially unchanging and then, boom, they would engorge and expand. When their protective bud skins could no longer contain them they would start to burst, tiny seams appeared at first and then, one day, a pivotal one, there was more flower than bud (and you wondered how the bud contained it all in the first place). The transformation, much like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, is amazing, transfixing. As the project was intended, it taught us about growth and change, and how every plant has its own unique pace and style. However, we never strayed from the minutia of the bud to talk about the macro of the plants changing the environment. That’s the part I like: the way these processes and their results draw our world in 3-D, creating complexity. The potential for placeness.

It is the alteration of spatial perceptions and also the formation of places, environments – maybe somewhat the same as they were last spring, but maybe not, there just might be new surprises to behold. Anyway, who can recall the fullness of the landscape after living with it for five months as mostly stick figures? This fleshing out is a friendly and welcome face. Living in an environment with less dramatic seasonal effects would seem, sadly, less stimulating. It is the spring and its magic that gets me up in the morning, that excites the senses into action: the moist fresh air with a bouquet, the umpteen shades of green and delicate pastels, the sounds of returning birds as placeness is being arranged for them, the quality of the light – plentiful and warm – and the layering of objects in space, not lined up fully visible in one glance but, rather, playing peek-a-boo with your eyes and enriching your world. It happens so gradually, you might miss it.

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