James Turrell: A Retrospective at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is an expansive show featuring works by James Turrell from over five decades. Using a variety of techniques, Turrell has attempted to elucidate the "seeing that occurs within"; in creating an environment where reality collaborates with the visitor's subjective perception, what Turrell refers to as the "thing-ness of light…itself becomes a revelation." LACMA's show spans light projections (such as Cross Corner Projections where Turrell projects light onto corners creating the semblance of objects, Space Division Constructions where light creates a sense of surface across an actual opening, and Wedgeworks that use architecture to frame light), prints, drawings and models of his Roden Crater project, holograms, as well as immersive environments. I had the wonderful opportunity to experience three immersive environments (Light Reignfall, Dark Matters and Breathing Light)--each contemplative, revelatory and mind-blowing in their own ways.
Light Reignfall (2011) is essentially akin to an Aten Reign (2013) on fast forward for one. Not for claustrophobes, the work is from the Perceptual Cell series, which are enclosed structures that provide single-viewer experiences. From the outside, the structure looks like a globular MRI apparatus. A white lab-coated attendant asked me to choose between a "hard" or "soft" program (I chose the former), and handed me a very detailed (but extremely comprehensive and well-written!) waiver to sign. Having taken my shoes and spectacles off, and given a "panic" button lanyard and headphones, I was slid into the chamber. In the next 12 minutes, a light program enfolded before my eyes, while a constant noise emanated through the headphones. I initially panicked, as I perceived the intensely hued blankets of light layer onto my eyes like multi-colored blindfolds. Eventually, however, I settled into letting the pulsating light wash over me. While I kept my eyes open at all times, the experience of seeing in the Perceptual Cell was similar to the experience of closing one's eyes really tightly and seeing colorful bursts--a phenomenon that is apparently known as phosphenes. Strangely enough, the experience felt extremely short, and of course, singular and unique.
After coming out of Light Reignfall, I experienced an entirely different kind of perception experiment through Dark Matters (2011). This work is from Turrell's Dark Space series (which Turrell describes as facilitating the difficulty of
"[differentiating] between seeing from the inside and seeing from the outside"). Directed by a wonderful guide with a calming voice, I was led through a snaky unlit corridor into a pitch black room and asked to sit down. After what seemed like a few minutes of staring into complete nothingness, my eyes adjusted to focus on a faint glow far off in the distance. Contemplative yet still unnerving, the experience allowed me to focus on how my eyes adjust to the environment around me.
The last work I experienced was Breathing Light (2013), an entire room. In fact, you need to line up in an external corridor, then wait in a corral area, and then ritualistically enter the temple to light that is the work. It's a Ganzfeld--the German term for "entire field"--where being inside the space deprives you of all clues as to any sense of direction or depth. In comparison to the other two immersive works, Breathing Light was extremely calming and peaceful. Having experienced an afternoon of Turrell, I was reminded that Alain de Botton commented in Art as Therapy that Turrell is a "choreographer of experience [we] might have" and not a recorder of an experiences he once had. And master choreographer he most certainly is.
I was reminded that one of Turrell's Skyscapes is installed very close to home. Open during certain afternoons, it's Meeting (1978), created in MoMA PS1 since 1986. A parting image from my experience of the work in 2012:
James Turrell: A Retrospective is on view at LACMA until April 6, 2014.
All images (except Meeting) by Florian Holzherr, courtesy of LACMA
All works © James Turrell
Rockbund Art Museum is a private museum showing contemporary art exhibitions. Open since 2010, the museum is located near the bund and housed in a 1930s building that has been restored by British architect, David Chipperfield. When I visited Shanghai, the museum featured HUGO BOSS ASIA ART, an award given to a Chinese artist under the age of 35.
In its first iteration in the Asian region, seven artists had been shortlisted for the 2013 prize, and each artist (or artist collective) was given space in the museum to showcase their pre-existing or newly created work. The list of artists and the winner of the 2013 prize can be found here. Here are some of the presentations that I found particularly intriguing.
The artist duo, BIRDHEAD, created an immersive environment of blown-up black and white photographs featuring dynamic portraits of the artists and their friends, interspersed with landscapes and other visually arresting images. The viewer navigated a hallway of these photographs to be greeted by a framed photographic work of an ostrich head and bird wings, together with waves. Calligraphic scripture, at the end of the hallway, boldly declared something along the lines of 歓迎再次来到鳥頭世界 ('Welcome to the world of BIRDHEAD again'). As the visitor traverses this hallway of images, BIRDHEAD seems to be indicating that our everyday is full of images, some of which catch our perceptual attention, and others which fly right by us, all of which comprise the world in which we live.
Cohesive in narrative, and surprising to the viewer wandering around the museum was Li Wei's works. Help (2013) was a site-specific installation featuring a life-size human wearing mental ward pajamas, hanging off the railings of the central hollow area in the museum. Plan: 2'55'' (2013) was installed throughout various areas of the museum and suggested elements of an unfinished story, through outlines of human shapes drawn in yellow masking tape on the floor and police security tapes cordoning off other areas. Making good use of the museum space, Li 's works make the viewer question the institutional structure of museums, and the viewer's complicit and voyeuristic role in creating a narrative.
Kwan Sheung Chi's varied practice was evident in several pieces exhibited. Producing installations and videos, he highlights absurd situations and questions social norms. Untitled (White) (2013) was one such work. Reminiscent of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' poster works, where works by the artist were printed in unlimited editions that were free for the taking, Kwan Sheung Chi stacked white poster paper with one sentence printed on the floor reading "自由取用 / Free", provoking viewers to question such issues as the relation between artistic production and the artist's hand, and the meaning of human labor. I also enjoyed One Million (RMB), a video of the artist's hand counting bills, which is comprised of a short video that loops until the artist counts to one million.
One of the most powerful (and personal) pieces that directly commented on the role of the contemporary artist in Chinese society, and the relation between capital and artistic production was Art is Vacuum by Li Liao. Li Liao presented a transcription of a conversation he had with the father of his then fiancee (now wife), who was concerned that Li Liao, as an artist, would not be able to provide for his daughter. In the installation space, Li Liao installed a framed letter from the museum congratulating him on being shortlisted for the 2013 prize. A caption next to the letter read that Li Liao had given 40,000 RMB, the production fee received from the museum for the exhibition, to his fiancee's father "who now has become [his] father-in-law."