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No.21: Colourscape

Issue 50 Aug / Sep 2009

Sharon Stammers continues her world tour exploring the best architecture that is built with light. This issue, Douglas James goes for a holiday love affair.

I’ve chosen Colourscape as it is in the purest sense ‘built with light’ in a way that no other building is. The first time I visited Colourscape, I was amazed at the intensity of emotion and feelings that I was experiencing simply from the colour around me. The chambers within the structure are arranged so that, in certain parts, you are completely immersed in a single, totally saturated, colour of light. Believe it or not, you can then ‘feel’ the brain and physiological system reacting, changing your mood, and creating unexpected sensations throughout your body. From the reactions of others, it wasn’t just me that was feeling weird either. There are very few places in the world where you can experience true saturated colour, and especially where there is no artificial lighting element. It is something that anyone who aspires to understand the interaction between light and human beings must experience.
Douglas James – Director Minds Eye 3D



Trust Doug! We started the series with epic and ancient architecture; the Pantheon, Hagia Sophia, Sagrada Familia and now in at No. 21, Doug chooses Colourscape! Only joking, it is after all, the personal choice of the designer. My memories of Colourscape are from before I dedicated my life to lighting and involve magic mushrooms. Whilst it is surprising that I remember anything at all from that time, it does illustrate Doug’s point that Colourscape is an assault on the visual senses unlike anything you have ever experienced. The influence of psilocybian only serves to heighten it.

Anyhow enough of my dirty past, I digress. Colourscape is a travelling ‘building’ made of a translucent coloured PVC membranes constructed into a large inflatable series of interconnected tunnels and atria. Daylight is filtered through the permeable skin of the structure itself. Although only red, blue, green and yellow (there is a neutral grey as well), the experience is full spectrum.

In 1989, Nettelfold Festival Trust directors Simon Desorgher and Lawrence Casserley began collaborating with Peter Jones and Lynne Dickens of Colourscape and created the Colourscape Music Festival on Clapham Common in London. The first Colourscape structure was comissioned in 1995 with funding from Foundation for Sport and the Arts and the National Lottery and designed for performance. In 2002, a second Colourscape was commissioned with Arts Council lottery funding and the ColourDome was constructed in 2005. All installations have featured at hundreds of music festivals and educational events around the country and overseas.

Peter Jones developed the first Colourscape structures in 1974, preceded by work called ‘Spaceplaces’; installations of coloured surfaces made inside buildings. In 1970 they became open-air structures. His experiments with air-inflated sculpture gave new possibilities to work directly with colour. Early structures used large primary colour chambers interconnected by tubes. As the Colourscape design developed, the structures became more complex in colour relationships.

The artists say that Colourscape needs to be experienced directly — photographs only give an impression and descriptions are inadequate. Colour is not something that can only be seen, it can also be felt. Colour has energy. Colourscape is about opening up your senses and extending your awareness of colour. (Surely they were taking mushrooms?)

Visitors wear a coloured cloak to become part of the Colourscape itself and then walk through the labyrinth-like sculpture experiencing the intensity and subtlety of colour. Although primary colours are used as surfaces, visitors may see mixtures of colours that they are unable to name. People react very differently to different colours. “Some people describe red as a physical presence; others hesitate to step into it.” 

There are often dance or music performances inside the structure.
The Nettlefold Trust runs Colourscape workshops for all ages and abilities from the very young to the very old. Special Needs groups particularly benefit through the strong light, colour and music with the workshops supporting the National Curriculum through art, colour and light, acoustics and science. The workshops in Colourscape lead the participants on a journey of discovery where they find their own answers to the questions: How light and colour work; How colour is made in the brain; How colour affects our thinking and emotions; and How colour affects our everyday lives.

”Adults often say that they feel like children inside Colourscape, or describe it as ‘like flying’ or ‘breathing colour’. Children often say that they feel as if they are ‘inside a huge body’ or ‘wrapped in a rainbow’. They like to try ‘hiding in colour’.”

You can experience this for yourself (with or without mind altering drugs) on September 12-20th at the 20th anniversary Colourscape Music Festival on Clapham Common.



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