“My desire is to set up a situation to which I take you and let you see. It becomes your experience.”
For over half a century, the American artist James Turrell has worked directly with light and space to create artworks that engage viewers with the limits and wonder of human perception. Turrell notes, “In working with light, what is really important to me is to create an experience of wordless thought, to make the quality and sensation of light itself something really quite tactile. It has a quality seemingly intangible, yet it is physically felt. Often people reach out to try to touch it. My works are about light in the sense that light is present and there; the work is made of light. It’s not about light or a record of it, but it is light. Light is not so much something that reveals, as it is itself the revelation. The work I do does not have to do with science or demonstrations of scientific principles. My work has to do with perception—how we see and how we perceive. Though I use the information and need the help of people in the sciences to calculate positions of celestial events and to solve problems of refraction caused by changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature, for example, my work does not push the boundaries of science. I think artists have a lot more to do with investigating the limits of perception than science does at this time. The basic difference, though, is one of intent. I am more interested in posing questions than in answering them. I also think artists are more practical than scientists in that when they find something that works and is useful, they’re quite willing to use it without necessarily knowing why or how it works.”
Turrell’s group of prints, Mapping Spaces, were created in 1987 as Chambers and Cross Sections of the Roden Crater. Located in the Painted Desert region of Northern Arizona, Roden Crater is an unprecedented large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone by light and space and the culmination of the artist’s lifelong research in the field of human visual and psychological perception. Roden Crater is a controlled environment for the experience and contemplation of light.
Source: James Turrell, statement, in Mapping Spaces (New York: Peter Blum Editions, 1987), excerpt from Kristine Stiles, Peter Selz (Eds.), Theory and Documents of Contemporary Art, 1966, p. 574.
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