Light and Perception

One of my dreams is to visit the Roden Crater. It isn’t open yet and its opening date is unknown (although there’s talk of 2011), but one can always hope. The crater houses an extensive artwork by James Turrell, whose work is about light and perception.

My first experience of his work was of his light volumes. When you enter the room, you see what looks like a lighted, white plastic box mounted on the far wall. The rest of the room is low lit. It’s not until you get within a few feet of the thing that you realize it’s projected light, not a solid object at all. I had to reach out and try to touch it to convince myself it wasn’t an object.

I saw one of this Ganz field (or ganzfeld) installations a few years ago. In a Ganz field, the light is perfectly even everywhere, which means that it’s very hard to orient yourself in the space. The size of the room, how far away the walls are, even where the floor is before your foot hits it; all these cues are erased. Pretty trippy stuff.

The Roden Crater is the culmination of Turrell’s work and comprises several structures that direct and focus the viewer’s attention on the sky seen through openings and on the light and shadow interplay inside. Gee, can’t you see the sky and some shadows just about anywhere? Sure, you can. But do you really look? Do you spend time watching a shadow float across a white wall and observe how the light changes in the room as that happens? The crater one ups these perception experiences by providing an even horizon all around, so the entire sky becomes your field of vision, unhampered by earthly scale.

So, Turrell is one of my favorite artists. Who are yours?


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