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See! Colour!

Artist James Turrell's mind-bending experience of light, sound and space in Järna, Sweden

by Richard Prime in Culture on 19 May 2011

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The average human takes many things for granted, but in the eyes of American artist James Turrell the light and color around us is top of the list. For the past 30 years the pioneering artist has been creating breathtaking installations based around the simplistically multifaceted mediums of light, color and space. In fact, Turrell can lay claim to owning the world's largest piece of art, the Roden Crater, which affords the viewer access to celestial phenomena at a location just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.

While the crater is still very much a work in progress, a new exhibition entitled "See! Colour!" just opened in the unlikely location of Järna, a small commune just outside Stockholm which has played a huge part in the Swedish anthroposophical movement over the years.

The show features a host of Turrell's site-specific installations—all of which are programmed according to their locations in the world and proximity to the atmosphere, light and climate. Each of the five works is undeniable proof not only of Turrell's artistic acumen but of the potential of color and light to inform and baffle the mind.

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"Ganzfeld", treats the viewer to an enormous room which cycles between the red and blue portions of the color spectrum (according to Turrell's technician these color groups are chosen for their ability to overload the retina quickly). It takes seconds for the dimensions of the space to vanish while the mind attempts to locate corners, walls and angles, an effect that's both disconcerting and exhilarating at the same time.

From Ganzfeld, a short walk leads visitors to the gentle hues of Wedgewood, which acts like a tranquilizer to the overloaded brain, structuring the exhibition cleverly with its change of pace.

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Many of the works at Järna are not only site but time specific. Skyspace, a work which perhaps epitomizes Turrell's work, is best viewed a short time before the sun rises and sets. Inside a tall cylindrical room with a skylight-like hole cut into the center of the roof a series of lights are aligned in the direction of the natural light pouring in. The result is a disorientating change of color in the natural light, and a slice of the atmosphere which seems almost tangible. "Light is all around us, it's what feeds out bodies, while we describe emotions, art and life through the language of light and color," explains Turrell.

Discussing what many consider to be his most powerful piece, Bindu Shards, Turrell told us that, thanks to his time as a pilot, "My work has always been informed with an exploration of a landscape without horizons, like a whiteout, the rapture of the deep. I try to create a horizon-less, gravity-less space."

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Bindu Shards is a 4.2-meter sphere in which the viewer is inserted, lying on their back, wearing headphones and carrying a panic button. Choosing from hard or soft, they are taken on an indescribable 15 minute journey that is likely to linger in the mind for weeks following.

A small sign plays in the headphones as a veritable light show plays out, triggering what Turrell calls "Behind the Eye Seeing," in which you feel as if your entire field of vision is extended through to 360 degrees. Color, light and the audible sign take the mind to a place where breaks of solid color create the sensation of flying and physical release. The fact that you are enclosed, alone in the sphere also allows you to actually feel the different temperatures from the wavelengths of each respective color.

While there is a large number of installations on site at Järna, this is seemingly only a small slice of the potential color holds, and with every passing technological advancement, Turrell's pieces are destined to become even more moving and pioneering.

"See! Colour!" is a stirring odyssey of color and light which has to be seen to be truly believed. The exhibition is open through 4 October 2011. All images by Florian Holzherr, see more in the gallery.

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