James Turrell: “Light is a Powerful Substance”

[email protected]
Jun 24, 2013 9:54PM

Since the late 1960s Turrell has conceived a wide-ranging yet unified body of work that explores his specific aesthetic concerns: the use of light as a material that affects the medium of perception; a refined formal language based in geometry; an interest in the optical and emotional effects of color; an interplay between the solid and the ethereal; and an emphasis on quiet, almost reverential atmospheres of introspection and reflection. Building on his early research into sensory deprivation—in particular the Ganzfeld effect, in which viewers experience disorienting, unmodulated fields of color—Turrell pursues a state of reflexive vision that he calls “seeing yourself seeing,” in which one becomes aware of the function of one’s own senses and of the material aspects of light.

"Light is a powerful substance,” Turrell explains. “We have a primal connection to it. But, for something so powerful, situations for its felt presence are fragile. . . . I like to work with it so that you feel it physically, so you feel the presence of light inhabiting a space,” he says. “My desire is to set up a situation to which I take you and let you see. It becomes your experience."