The classic Art Modern architecture of Los Angeles’ Union Railway Station was the location of Peter Erskine’s “Secrets of the Sun: Millennial Meditations” solar spectrum environmental installation in 1995.
In 1995 Secrets of the Sun: Millennial Meditations travelled to Los Angeles’ historic Union Railway Station, designed by the Parkinson brothers, who also designed LA’s iconic City Hall. With its classic Art Modern design, Union Station has been described as the most beautiful public building in Los Angeles. After working for over a year to gain permission to use the site and raise funds for the installation, Erskine opened Secrets of the Sun: Los Angeles on June 21, the Summer Solstice of 1995. The exhibition ran for six months, closing on the Winter Solstice, December 21. Erskine ironically wove the S.O.S. installation, with its other-worldly white suited visitor/participants, into the hustle and bustle of commuters at Union Station. The towering, white 16′ x 20′ PHOTO heliostat solar tracking mirror, mounted in the station’s south garden courtyard, reflected over 30,000 watts of renewable solar energy into the four darkened rooms of LA’s classic landmark. Two 4′ x 8′ flat laser-cut prisms refracted white sunlight into forty foot wide rainbow beams on the east wall of the Main Waiting Room. Erskine selected Union Station as the host for “S.O.S. – LA” both for its architectural beauty, and for the symbolic power of sustainable mass transit in combating climate change. Emulating the car dominated sprawl of Los Angeles, the 20,000 square foot expanse of S.O.S. – LA dwarfed S.O.S. – Berlin, and the intimate scale of S.O.S. – Rome installed in the 2000 year old Trajan’s Markets.
Erskine created an entirely new solar spectrum artwork for S.O.S. – LA. A living rainbow performance space akin to Bali’s Wayang Kulit shadow puppet theater, except here exhibition visitors became not only the viewers of the drama of light, but also performers in a unique play of colored shadows when they danced to the performers side of the of the eight foot high by sixteen foot wide rear projection screen.
When Paul B. MacCredy, LINK inventor of human powered flight, and scientific mentor to the Secrets of the Sun project visited the shadow play while it was being installed, he told Erskine “You should call it photosynthesis, because it magically turns the light energy of the rainbow into the chemical energy of dancers!” Link to catalogue essay. As people walked into the Photosynthesis Room, the milky tone of the screen burst into the living color of their life-sized colored shadows.
With coaching and inspiration from Doreen Nelson, creator of the educational revolution called City Building LINK and sister to architect Frank Gehry, Erskine developed the Three Big Ideas of Secrets of the Sun: Sunlight is Energy, All Life is Solar Powered, and Everything is connected to everything else. (Elaborate on Doreen idea) Visitors hands were stamped with one of the Big Ideas at the ticket booth and they read them again in two foot high letters on the rain-bowed wall of the Main Waiting Room as they toured the show.
Visitors could imagine they were entering the dawning “Solar Age” when they reached the south garden courtyard and confronted Erskine massive white 35,000 watt heliostat solar tracking and walked over to examine MacCready’s gleaming GM IMPACT (the first electric production car in the US) and an array of solar hardware from a commercial sized solar ice maker to the solar panels generating 100% of the electricity for the show.