SEEING THE LIGHT

'My work is about space and the light that inhabits it.'

James Turrell

Since the 1960s, American artist James Turrell has been wowing crowds with his light based installations. The retrospective show at our very own National Gallery of Australia may be one of the most exciting international shows in recent memory . . . and the first living artist to have a blockbuster summer show at the NGA.

The exhibition documents 50 years of Turrell's body of work through his exploration of light, sensory experiential art, participatory installations, prints and a video work that describes his work in Arizona USA, where he has spent the last four decades devising and building a naked eye observatory in the centre of a meteorite crater. He sounds like a wild guy! 

The exhibition guides you through a series of rooms in varying darkness where you experience the disorienting, captivating, hallucinatory, meditative and strangely calming qualities of the light works. It was recommended that I stay in one particular room for a minimum of 8 minutes to allow my eyes to adjust fully, and in my experience, the longer I stayed in the room, the more I saw the light bounce off the surfaces in a way that felt like my eyes were playing tricks on me. 

The exhibition also comprises single light projections that create 3D shapes on flat walls. A series of prints followed this form and I found the geometric patterns of these works to be simple and beautiful. 

In the final room I went to, I climbed up carpeted stairs with no shoes on and entered a room with curved walls and fluoro neon lights, similar to the image below. The colour of the light began to change which altered not only my perception of the space, but my perception of depth, where I felt like I had to hold my hands out in front of me to take a step forward. It was like being in a technicolour dream!  

Turrell's body of work is a fascinating exploration of the effects that light has on internal spaces, a practice that we can refer to in interior design, architecture and spatial design. 

'When you walk into each of these life-changing, immersive works, you are forced to question what you are actually seeing.'
James Turrell


James Turrell: A Retrospective runs until June 2015 at the National Gallery of Australia. 

All images and quotes via NGA