Last weekend I was lucky enough to Travel to Canberra with H to catch the James Turrell exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. Having recently been introduced to his work through H, I was more than excited to immerse myself in this retrospective collection.
The collection itself, featured work that spanned over almost 5 decades of Turrell's career, from early light projections and holograms to immersive light installations. It would take me nearly all day to talk about each piece on it's own, so I am just going to mention a couple of the works that really moved me, played on my perception and emotion, and made me question the nature of light itself.
The first works on display as you walk into the exhibition was the Mendota Stoppages. These works were created between 1969-74. In November 1966 Turrell rented a studio in the Mendota Hotel, Santa Monica. The Mendota Stoppages were created by cutting holes into walls and re-opening some of the sealed windows. Turrell controlled the incidental light - from neon signs, street lights, passing cars - via a series of openings and apertures into the space inside. He went on to change the layout of the dividing walls so that 12 rooms were created. Visitors were invited to move through the spaces to experience the different light effects as Turrell adjusted the apertures. On display were photographs, technical drawings and plans for the Mendota Stoppages, as well as some graphite and ink drawings to show the atmospheric qualities of the final space.
After Green, 1993 is a Wedgework, and one of James Turrell's most complex and intriguing group of works that brings together fluorescent, LED and fibre optics. Multiple light sources and different types of light combine to produce an immersive environment. After Green was a work that I spent a lot of time with, letting myself go to the adaptation phenomena that happens with Turrell's Wedgeworks, in which the human eye makes assumptions to cope with the lack of discernible information.
The title itself refers to the retinal effect of looking at concentrated green, when photoreceptors lose sensitivity and retain the 'memory' of the opposite colour, red.
This was a disorientating and exquisitely beautiful installation.
It is hard to explain the feeling after moving through the entire retrospective, especially when all the works were so immersive. Leaving the exhibition and going outside took a while for my eyes and brain to adjust to the natural light again. We took a break by the water before heading over to Within Without.
Within Without, 2010, was purchased by the NGA in 2014. It sits in the newer section of the of the wider Sculpture Garden that wraps around the building. Entering Within Without along a downward sloping walkway, you are surrounded on either side by a pond that circles around the back of the skyspace's exterior. A square based pyramid is hidden under a mound planted with tufts of local grass. The stupa, constructed from Victorian basalt, is just visible from the outside of the skyspace, but inside dominates the centre of the pyramid. Turrell incorporates the element of water - a recurring feature used for it's light reflecting and light absorbing qualities, with a bright turquoise pool which you cross to enter the inner sanctum of the stupa. Although the space itself feels quite large, the viewing chamber itself is relatively small, a circular room with high walls directing the eye to the opening of the roof, and in turn, to the sky. The moonstone, set into the centre of the floor, mirrors the oculus and the universe above.
I feel really very lucky to have been able to see these works before the exhibition ended. I am excited too see what is next for this artist and hope that one day, I will have the chance to see the biggest Turrell work to date, Roden Crater.