Cosmic Latte: The official average color of the universe, as coined by scientists at John Hopkins. It’s something of a beige color.
You understand cosmic latte best when walking through Spencer Finch’s exhibit of the same name: a long corridor of a room within the ten-hector complex that is MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). The clay plastered brick walled room gazes into the outside world through rusty rectangular windows neatly arranged along both walls. It’s grim outside – mid December in Western Massachusetts. It’s raining and therefore, a warmer day than you should typically expect at this time of year but the stone exterior of the 19th century converted factory complex creates an inexplicable eeriness.
But inside – it’s warm. It’s cosmic latte. It’s a wood paneled floor lit up by strings of bulbs crisscrossing on the ceiling. The bulbs are colored: titanium white, Mars yellow, chrome yellow and cadmium red. The Cosmic Latte hues, apparently, and, perhaps, Magnum Ice Cream flavors.
If Cosmic latte were a drink, it’d be warm and cool at the same time. It would invigorate and encourage. It would leave you wanting more but knowing that too much may have diminishing returns on inspiration.
My taste of Finch’s Cosmic Latte sits with me long after I’ve experienced it. Yet, it’s but a small part of a two-day runaway from Cambridge. Into North Adams I went – or rather, was taken. After four months of non-stop learning, working and doing, it was finally time to sit back and take it all in. To relax the mind in art and nature.
The Berkshires, Western Massachusetts, North Adams and The Tourists Hotel meant nothing to me before that two-day trip. Some of those names I’d never heard of; others maybe briefly in fleeting conversation. But yes – let’s go I said. In part, I trusted my guide. In other part, I needed out.
I went with someone I still barely know. We arrived at The Tourists hotel and he kept saying this place must be amazing in the summer. I couldn’t help thinking, it’s amazing now. Something about the dead trees and overcast skies ignited a magic in the place. A guess would have it as an old motel renovated into a modern hipster lodging, embracing a wooden lumber aesthetic. Fireplaces, impromptu folk music performances, string lights, flowing alcohol, leather furniture, king sized beds and the smell of pepper feel like protection from the melancholy outside. It is a safety and solitude from the least weather has to offer - it’s wellbeing only amplified by a dreary outside. Time and place stood perfectly still as one hour turned into seven hours of sitting in the same place, reading, talking, drinking and relaxing our minds before a fireplace - and forgetting about the outside. And about time all together.
Yet, isn’t nature still vitalizing even when gloomy? A walk through the woods, along a railroad, through mud and withered leaves is necessary. Fresh, crisp air revitalizes the soul. A strong gust of wind serves as a swift reminder that this world hardly belongs to us.
It’s a short walk but there’s water around that rushes too fast to freeze over and I feel grateful to be slowing down.
The highly anticipated trip to MASS MoCA teaches me about Cosmic Latte and I’m motivated to claim the color as my favorite one – and to appropriate Finch’s aesthetic for my future home.
What can’t be appropriated is the experience in James Turrell’s exhibit, Perfectly Clear, 1991. There’s that word again when I read the description of his work: “In Turrell’s work, light links the material world outside the body with the immaterial world of the mind, connecting ‘the cosmic to the plain everyday existence that we try to live in’”. To attempt to describe the sensations derived from Perfectly Clear would only be to minimize them.
Cosmic fate appears to be playing itself before me in North Adams. I’m drawn to the universe, the vastness of it and how little we know of it – although apparently, we’ve discerned it’s mean gradient color. I believe in a God that’s larger than all of it. Cosmic is the feeling when we gaze at what appears to be a wall and my companion asks:
“What’s over there?” and the response is:
“Nothing, it is only light and space.”
James Turrell has given light tangibility.
In a purely white cube, corners and edges blend. Lights strobe and my light photosensitivity triggers a migraine. I was warned, but how could I come this far and not see Perfectly Clear? A miraculous transformation. The cube is now flickering between blue, yellow and orange before it settles into turquoise. My eyes adjust, making my pink palms appear purple and my black hair, red. I can’t help but feel alone despite being in the cube with someone I’m fond of and a stranger. If Cosmic Latte was the color of the universe, Perfectly Clear was it’s beating, bleeding heart.
How had I ended up here, in North Adams, in the middle of December with a man I was only starting to know and seeking an escape from a place I had once thought to be a fickle dream?
The strobes again. I shut my eyes and when I open them again, the room is orange and my palms are fading into blue. Transience and magic all at once, yet the light is ever palpable. And then, as I contemplate my journey up to this particular moment, so too does that journey feel solid and in my hands. It becomes perfectly clear that it’s truly my own.
Light is the theme of the weekend. Light coalesced in cosmic latte; light bewildering the eyes; light as the source of illusion, introspection and inspiration; light as warmth from a fire; and the flicker of light that sparks in your mind when you realize that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.
*Several include Malika Favre designs interpreted in paint form.