Monday, November 11, 2013

The Wow of James Turrell

I’ve noticed myself speaking very excitedly about the Turrell retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—much more excited than what I felt while viewing the show. 
Especially in Turrell’s immersion artworks:  to be conscious and aware in such an unusual environment is disturbing (pleasantly), disorienting (I can imagine walking into a wall without realizing it were there), and other-worldly. 

Maybe “other-worldly” is the right term.  In a work like “Breathing Light” (2013)  you are surrounded by colored light and exist in a physical space which doesn’t allow for any other experience… sound isn’t a part of the installation, touch isn’t relevant…taste and smell, forget about it.

"Breathing Light"
But there you are in this colored space…you’re not dreaming.  This is a real place, but unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.  Sense deprivation is a field of study for Turrell, and it is typically in a laboratorial, if not negative context (solitary confinement); but this is so extravagant and rich.  Indulging the sense of sight so thoroughly and without detail brings into play the mechanics of vision—the way the eye scans and moves to gather information—and what about afterimages?
"Breathing Light", view from waiting area

By the time you emerge from the retrospective you feel like the scales have been removed from your eyes (Acts 9:17-18) .  Having been under the exclusive influence of light and color for one to two hours, I wonder what I’ve been involved with, really.  The spiritual references to light speak of understanding, clarity and glory. 


The physicality of light, which I’ve never considered or encountered before now, is wavelengths or vibrations.  Breaking the human experience down to one element (light) and continuously exposing viewers to that singular experience renders an increasingly physical effect/impact on the viewer.
 “What is happening to me?” is a question that occurs during this experience.  Perhaps nothing or nothing that isn’t quickly restored upon leaving the museum and returning to daylight and the bustle of Wilshire Blvd.  Darn it.

On our flight back east I began reflecting on all of this.  Detail is eye pleasing—the eye hungers for it.  My window view from the airplane confirmed it:  I spent a lot more time looking down than up—you see the sky, you get it—but the landscape below was changing constantly and filled with detail and texture…fascinating. 

 I got excited, realizing that Turrell’s work is not eye pleasing.  It forces us to look at terrifically little; as such it goes against the nature of the eye.


The three dimensional references of the early work (the gorgeous etchings, as well as the light projections like “Juke”) are done away with in the shallow space installation, “Raemar Pink White”, as well as in the immersion installations, like "Breathing Light."
"Raemar Pink White" (shallow space installation)

In the latest works the edges, seams and planes of the viewing space are removed, giving our eyes even less information.  There are fewer and fewer references to our previous experiences, our world.

"Breathing Light"

I left the museum feeling like a spiritual being:  sensitive, reduced by stages through each progressive work.  I felt as if I’d experienced the creation, through man-made spaces, ordered experiences and sensory deprivation/indulgence.  Turrell reduces this world and the vastness of creation to a focused experience of the first element, light.  His stated interest is in creating experiences rather than “art”....

Job well done, sir, and thank you for the memories.  Wow!

No comments:

Post a Comment