James Turrell: Geometry of Light

Born in Los Angeles in 1943, James Turrell is today’s most influential exponent of Light Art. Since the 1960s he has been devoting his entire creativity to the phenomena of natural and artificial light. It is precisely in Turrell‘s works that light and space become condensed into a process of experience that both reflects and makes us reflect upon the very conditions underlying aesthetic perception. On the occasion of the inauguration of James Turrell‘s latest permanent installation, Third Breath, for the Centre for International Light Art Unna, the exhibition James Turrell – Geometry of Light combines a selection of works that exemplify all the important phases of his life’s work.

The concept of the Skyspaces is closely bound up with Turrell’s work in progress, the Roden Crater project in the Arizona Desert. Here Turrell has been converting an extinct volcano, the Roden Crater, into a celestial observatory since 1974. Darkened chambers inside the crater permit observation of astronomical phenomena, including the winter and summer solstices. The present exhibition shows not only photographs of the project but also a large-scale model of this majestic volcanic cone, at the foot of which are the remains of a Hopi Indian village. An interactive animation takes viewers on a first ever tour of the inner world of the Roden Crater.
The origins of his lifetime project, Roden Crater, and hence of Third Breath as well, go back to the years between 1966 and 1974, when James Turrell was still conducting studio experiments with corner and wall projections of artifical light in completely darkened rooms. Basically they were attempts at making tangible the intangible phenomenon of light through systematic investigations into the relationship between space and light. In 1989/90, Turrell translated these experiments into the two-dimensional. The present exhibition shows works from Turrell‘s aquatint series First Light, which utilizes the unlimited tonal gradations of this printing technique in order to reproduce the subtle, spatial-sculptural nuances of light and shade obtained in the original experiments. The exhibited hologram from 2004 condenses this interwoven complex of light, space and surface.

At the end of the 1980s, James Turrell began to operate with mobile perceptual cells, installations in which the confrontation with light becomes a physically experienceable spatial situation for each individual viewer. In various scenarios, Turrell isolates the viewers from their surroundings and quite literally plunges them into light. Such an experiment was performed, for example, with Alien Exam, a perceptual cell produced in 1989 and now specially reconstructed for the present exhibition. Lying on a kind of medical examination table, the viewer is subjected to an „extraterrestrial exam“ while looking up into a hemispherical dome of projected light phenomena.

The most recent works of James Turrell are represented by a piece from his series Tall Glasses. It confronts the viewer with clearly defined areas of light that create a field of tension through their constantly modulating colours. The alternating sensations of constraint and freedom experienced by the viewer necessitate a continual process of visual and physical adaptation. This series represents the very latest development in the work of an artist of unique standing who has opened up completely new dimensions of perception between reality and virtuality in the art of the present day.

Source - Instituut Litchtontwerpen

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