Before a roller coaster starts, there’s a wonderful moment of anticipation. It’s the time when you might be a bit anxious, although some folks are very anxious, and you’re uncomfortable maybe because of your own anxiety, but probably because you’re tightly tucked between a hard plastic seat and the bar that keeps you from falling out of the plastic seat and dying. You can’t know the first time you ride the coaster what it will be like to fly through space on the track ahead of you. The possibilities are endless.
Just as I didn’t know when I was 23, shoved into a seat prison and waiting for Space Mountain to start, that I was about to have an incredible spatial experience that felt like I was barreling through infinite space. It was amazing. And even though I repeated the ride again and again, I don’t remember the thin plot that embellishes the beginning of Space Mountain. I do, however, distinctly remember that suddenly you’re hurled into a room where it feels like millions of stars surround you. There are percussive chimes and these points of light are crowded in every direction out toward forever. It’s really an incredible effect. The effect, though, is not unique to this ride. The chime-y soundtrack that accompanies the ride is.
I’ve had a similar spatial sensation standing in the entrance to the Schaulager, an art storage facility on the outskirts of Basel. The entrance leads into a huge foyer that stretches the full height of the building; from there, you can see all of the levels where art is stored. Architects Herzog & de Muron spaced the fluorescent lights on each level so that from the entrance, the room appears infinitely tall. At least that’s how it felt to me. I walked in, looked up, and felt my sense of balance waver under the enormity of the space above me. I’ve also felt like I was standing on the brink of infinity while visiting an installation by artist Yayoi Kusama at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburg with some college friends. Kasuma’s work is incredible and the pictures above are taken from this article about her 2012 retrospective at the Tate Modern.
In all three instances I didn’t’ know what to expect either before the ride started or before walking into the room, and in each instance I felt my intestinal villi flutter once I was immersed in the effect. The butterflies in my stomach felt downright thrilling. It’s incredible how these spaces are designed using a few optical illusions and an excess of imagination. We may remember standing in the middle of large spaces– like parking lots outside of theme parks- that are actually bigger than any of the spaces above, but they seem only nauseatingly far away from the endless possibilities inside.