Placed on the ground is a steel dome, surrounded by heather and brush. Is this the top of a giant orb about to sink into earth or rise to heaven? The surface of the dome is sprinkled with some 80 lights, making it resemble a large, watching faceted eye. The lights glow orange but appear to gradually shift towards a clearer yellow, as drifting dark clouds obscure the sun and a cold autumn storm is brewing.
Markus Lantto’s two Thermonodes at the Sami schools in Karesuando and Kiruna translate temperatures into colours. From red for the warmest to white, which is the coldest, the lights on the steel domes tell us to put on an extra woolly jumper or to leave our hat at home. People living nearby can check the temperature from their bedroom windows in the morning and feel the colour when they go outdoors.
Even if we all register colour with our eyes in more or less the same way, we experience it differently. Cultural and personal experiences, other adjacent colours, even our mood, affect how we perceive a colour. In general, we could agree that blue is cold, whereas red appears hot. But there are millions of colours – do we all have the same idea about the exact boundary between hot and cold? Ordinarily, we only use 20 or 30 words to describe colours. In that sense, colours reveal the limitations of language. But the language of colours can be developed. People with a richer colour vocabulary are also able to distinguish more colours.
How many shades between blue and purple can an eight-year-old pupil at the school in Karesuando see, and how would he or she describe them? The nuances will be associated with seasons, weather, garments and shoes. Perhaps pale mauve will become known as indoor lunch break.
When the snow settles in the winter – the heat from the lights will keep the Thermonodes from being completely covered – a strange phenomenon will appear. If you look at the blue lights first, and then move your gaze to the white snow, you will see distinct orange after-images. The eye’s visual memory always generates the contrasting colour of the stimulating colour. It’s a small step from colour theory to colour magic.