Ancient Optics: Cloud Chamber For The Trees and Sky
Folks have passed by this structure on nature walks around the North Carolina Museum of Art. Some people walk in without knowing what it is. But as soon as the door shuts behind them and shadows of the outside world are cast inside, explorers find an instant appreciation for this enchanting feature.
This is the Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, which was created by a British artist, Chris Drury. It is a camera obscura, coming from Latin terms meaning “darkened room”.
Affectionately dubbed as the Hobbit House, the reality of this chamber is a bit more ancient. The principle extends as far back to Aristotle’s time in Greece, when he viewed a light emanating from a tiny hole in a dark room producing an image on another wall during a partial eclipse of the sun. It might call to mind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, wherein the characters argue whether or not their shadows or their physical forms are their true selves.
There are debated claims camera obscura exists as far back to 30,000 BCE, within renderings of prehistoric artwork.
On a sunny day, one can see the casting of trees on the inside while autumnal light gives faint illuminations once the wooden door is shut. If you are lucky enough, clouds can also be seen vividly. The chamber is composed of stone, green turf and wood, making the rustic appeal all the more fantastic.
Drury has created a total of 14 Cloud Chambers around the world, with no two being alike. His work focuses on three binaries: nature/culture, inner/outer and micro/macro.
Commissioned to create the cloud chamber at the North Carolina Museum of Art, he chose a site under trees with an immense canopy. Keeping things local, he had stone quarried and timber sourced in the state. The materials were brought onto the site via mule train.
The artist explains in his own words:
- So the idea is that from the outside it is an object that blends with its surroundings, but when you go inside and your eyes adjust to the dark, the image of sky and trees appears on the walls and floor. This is really a strange, meditative experience. So the work ceases to be an object and becomes something which you experience and which as such may impact your experience of the world. It is a bit like being under the ground where the sky is revealed. I like this idea of an altered dream image, which turns reality on its head.