James Turrel – Light Reignfall


James Turrell’s Light Reignfall @LACMA – Andrew van Baal

James Turrell’s Light Reignfall Light Reignfall is a work from his series of perceptual cells, inside the participant is exposed to a uniform homogenous field of modulated light. A combination of sensory overstimulation, yet deprived of recognisable forms or space, hallucinatory effects are experienced.

“Assisted by an attendant, an individual viewer enters a spherical chamber on a sliding bed. A program of saturated light (operated by a technician) surrounds the viewer for twelve minutes, allowing the visitor to experience the intense, multi-dimensional power of light and the complex seeing instrument of the human eye.”

“James Turrell (b. 1943, Los Angeles), a key artist in the Southern California Light and Space movement of the 1960s and 70s. The exhibition includes early geometric light projections, prints and drawings, installations exploring sensory deprivation and seemingly unmodulated fields of coloured light, and recent two-dimensional work with holograms. One section is devoted to the Turrell masterwork in process, Roden Crater, a site-specific intervention into the landscape just outside Flagstaff, Arizona, presented through models, plans, photographs, and films.”

http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/james-turrell-retrospective

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Is it art if no one can see it?

As an art student, I became interested in the transformative power of the gallery and the simple mechanism of the plinth, literally elevating an object placed upon it to the status of art. I wanted to explore how these mechanisms affect the way people look at things and behave in the gallery. Artists are in a unique position, being able to play with assumptions and expectations, a certain state of perception, one assumes on entering the gallery space, a readiness to look closely and absorb. Potentially reading meaning into things they would otherwise consider banal.

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Antony Hall – Plinth with unseeable object 1998

‘Plinth [with unseeable object]’ 1998 is probably my oldest if not the first, conceptual work I made at art school, but the ideas around it still resonate deeply with my practice. ‘Plinth [with unseeable object]’  was a  paradoxical device that was able to display an object, whilst also being able to automatically conceal it if anyone entered the room or approached the plinth. 

I found this idea amusing, but the more I thought about it, and the more people said it would be too difficult to do, the more appealing the idea became. At the time I was studying sculpture and making kinetic work with mechanical and motorised elements. Enjoying this new found access to electrical and mechanical parts and metal working tools, this became my first real engineering problem. It was also my first plinth, made on a budget from cheap chipboard. It took days of sanding and repainting to get it perfectly smooth. [To this day I still spend hours making the most perfect plinths possible, the idea being, that ultimately the plinth becomes invisible, highlighting the work on-top, while in reality, the plinth is as important to the work, as the object placed upon it]

I devised a mechanism with a motor, a series of sensors, relays, and timing mechanisms, to open a hatch, through which an object could emerge. A movement sensor ensured that when anyone entered the space the object would rapidly retract, only to emerge later when no one was in the space. Perhaps on entering the space, one might catch a glimpse of movement, something retracting, or hear mechanical click and whine as the mechanism concealed itself.

I took dark pleasure in watching from a distance, people standing next to the plinth motionlessly waiting for something to happen, to see if it was possible to trick the movement sensors. The mechanism ensured that you would not see the object unless you waited motionless for 15 minutes, and no one else entered the room. The hidden object; a shiny abstract aluminium form chosen purely to gleam and capture attention from a distance.

Obviously many people walked past the work, perhaps perceiving only in a peripheral sense, the absence of a thing, or a space unoccupied.  I took away an important lesson from this work; what began as a simple investigation into the dynamics of the gallery environment and a technical challenge, led to a realisation of the subtle power of what is not shown. And how the viewer can unwittingly interact with a system and become part of the work, becoming an active participant.

What seemed like a rebellious act for me at the time, is a recurrent theme in art history; the archetypical void of nothingness, the absence of material objects; a powerful undercurrent in conceptual art, making the viewer reflect on their own role in the experience and perception of the work of art.

In making this work I developed an interest in working with the environment of the art gallery, using this more like a laboratory of experience. Currently, in my research, I want to investigate this area and explore this notion of ‘perceptual art’, artists working with pure experience, and illusion; work that is activated through human behaviour and interaction. A discussion I hope to elaborate on through this blog.

Below I have listed some key works, early predecessors which built foundations for a movement towards more intangible, immaterial and sensory artworks:

See also posts on Somaesthetics
See post on ‘Unseen by the artist’ [Lost work] 1999

Key historical works on the theme of nothingness:

Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Air de Paris’ [1919] ‘Ampoule of Parisian ether’, Robert
Rauschenberg’s White Paintings
John Cage’s silent music piece 4′33″ [1952]
Yves Klein’s aura-infused gallery space [1958].

Chris Burden concealed himself within a gallery space on several occasions for durational performances. The simple suggestion of a creative presence, substituting for the work of art itself.

Andy Warhol’s ‘Invisible sculpture’ [an empty plinth]  joke on the commercial art world perhaps?

Other artists/works:

Marina Abramovich, James Turrel’s light works, Tom Friedman’s ‘1000 Hours of Staring’

Notes and references:
The eloquence of absence: omission, extraction and invisibility in contemporary art
http://www.modernedition.com/art-articles/absence-in-art/the-invisible-artwork.html

“Null Object: Gustav Metzger Thinks About Nothing” in which an object was created from his brainwaves whilst trying to think about nothing.

http://www.digicult.it/news/null-object-gustav-metzger-thinks-about-nothing/

Life is an illusion. I am held together in the nothingness by art http://www.huffingtonpost.com/spread-artculture/anselm-kiefers-remembranc_b_783120.html

Notes on olfactory art

Olfactory art or Scent art has been growing over recent years, And I would agree with the premise, that ‘it has been long disregarded as one of the lower senses’ [scentart.net] I remember turning up for the opening of my own exhibition and discovering that along with the beverages, a selection of delicious snacks had been presented on tables placed inside the gallery space. The smell of the food filled the gallery and I felt at the time that this took away from the work. The smells that would have accompanied the work would have been, hot electronics and detergent. perhaps a hind of coffee from another experiment. Here are a few links to useful sites/research on the subject:

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Image from http://dailyscents.tumblr.com  “the Baltan Laboratories,  a collaborative platform for future thinking that places art and design research at the core of its activities, in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, invited me to give a “smell” workshop in the context of their program Hack the Body.
It was an intense 4h afternoon were we review together the physiological aspects of smell, as how it related to memory, olfactory art examples, and the best, we conducted a distillation out of the 3-days-slept-in t-shorts of the participants.”


“The sense of smell has long been disregarded as one of the lower senses. More recently, however, the cultural and social relevance of the sense of smell is increasingly recognized” https://scentart.net/about/

“Baltan is both a network and a methodology: It sees the lab as a way of working and as a place where ideas are put into practice through projects in which freedom of thought, openness towards the unknown, experiment and playfulness are key.
Baltan stimulates a cross-disciplinary approach conducted in an open-minded atmosphere based on trust, empathy and mutual inspiration.”  http://baltanlaboratories.org/about