Poets & Writers

In Praise of Darkness

HEATHER LANIER is the author of the nonfiction book Teaching in the Terrordome as well as two poetry chapbooks. Her essays have appeared in Salon, the Sun, Fourth Genre, Brevity, and elsewhere, and her TED talk on the incomplete stories we tell ourselves has been viewed more than a million times. Her next book, a memoir about raising a daughter with a rare chromosomal syndrome, is forthcoming from Penguin Press.

RIGHT now at MASS MoCA, perhaps the largest contemporary art museum in the United States, located in North Adams, Massachusetts, there is an exhibit called “Into the Light” in which artist James Turrell uses light as a sculptural medium, which is a very weird and cool and even breathtaking thing to see. “Squares of sky seem to float, suspended, in ceilings or walls,” write the museum’s curators about Turrell’s work. “Architecture disintegrates; and brilliant geometric shapes levitate in midair.” I’d never seen the crystalline purity of light come so fully alive until I visited “Into the Light.”

One particularly profound installation of the exhibit, “Hindsight,” is contained within a room of seemingly absolute darkness. The museum offers a little map of the pathway to the room and advises that you use the handrail to find your way: “It can take as long as fifteen minutes for your irises to open sufficiently to perceive this work. In the meantime,

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