In the late summer of 2011 I had the opportunity to view an installation by James Turrell at the Venice Biennale in Italy. This is a yearly world art exhibition showcasing acclaimed progressive artists from all over the globe. Turrell’s exhibition was the only installation out of hundreds with a line to view. I waited for nearly two hours in order to enter a room with two other people for no more than 5 minutes. The installation had not a single object inside. The only things encompassing the room were space, light and total disorientation. That was the point though. While waiting in line we stood in anticipation of what to expect of the visual and perceptual artist and his latest installation. Many of Turrell’s works engulf ones visual perception of the space they occupy and subsequently alter your perception of the light that is emitted either extremely apparent or subtle. It is difficult to describe his installations as you are usually attempting to describe perceptual illusions.
When I emerged around the corner towards the entrance we were looking at an illuminated wall shining a bright neon colored rectangle. At the base of the wall was a set of stairs running down either end and leading to a base like a pyramid. We remember not knowing what we were supposed to be looking at until out of nowhere a man walked out of the projection. The way the light reflected off the rectangle made the depth of the neon rectangle dissolve and subsequently was the first perceptual experience. Upon entering the room we are instantly void of depth and given the feeling of standing in an endless room with no end. The only cue we receive is a slight incline of the room. after the first few minutes the acknowledgment of the space we occupied started to become apparent and the size of the room began to emerge. Then just as it began, it was over and we were walking out the wall and down the stairs. Our experience was so brief yet incredibly profound. The wait was well worth being taken on Turrell’s visceral ride of light and space. The installation let me know of the great impact a designer can imbue to a viewer with such a brief visual and experiential moment.
James Turrell has been working in the light and space art world since the 1960′s and received a Macarthur “Genius” grant in 1984 for his contributions to the art world and progressing the field of light, space and land art installations. He is widely considered one of the signature artists of his generation and his works are scattered all over the world in various forms. His works began manipulating artificial light sources in isolated environments to create illusions to ones perception with light. Turrell then began experimenting with natural celestial light and building structures that would compliment the light to create illusions of depth and perception.
Turrell’s lifelong project however actually takes place inside an extinct volcano called Roden Crater. The idea is to bring all of his works’ ideologies into one mega land art installation. His aim is to bring the light from the sun and moon into the crater and cultivate celestial experiences that are inspired by the ancient cultures who also looked up to the sky and created mega structures to study and honor the celestial cycles.
“My work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing. I’m also interested in the sense of presence of space; that is space where you feel a presence, almost an entity — that physical feeling and power that space can give.
Roden Crater has knowledge in it and it does something with that knowledge. Environmental events occur; a space lights up. Something happens in there, for a moment, or for a time. It is an eye, something that is itself perceiving. It is a piece that does not end. It is changed by the action of the sun, the moon, the cloud cover, by the day and the season that you’re there, it has visions, qualities and a universe of possibilities.” – James Turrell
James Turrell can’t be considered a typical landscape designer by any measure. James Turrell can be considered an innovative and immensely progressive thinker and designer. His attitude toward art and the many manipulations one may incorporate to alter the perceptual experience have most definitely affected the design and art field. Turrell’s work is successful for it’s transcendent characteristics for not being conventional art nor conventional landscape design. The blending of mediums has been significant in progressing both fields and creating lasting impressions on those who have the opportunity to experience his installations first hand.