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James Turrell

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review

Writing about the ways in which 'space and light artists' have influenced him (aj 2.10.97), Richard MacCormac discussed the far-ranging work of the American James Turrell, who makes installations in galleries but - on an altogether different scale - is adapting an extinct volcano in Arizona (Roden Crater) into an intricate observatory.

The Other Horizon was published to accompany Turrell's exhibition earlier this year at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna and, of the several publications available on the artist, it offers the most thorough overview of his activity. Turrell's concise factual accounts of the different works that he makes - Projection Pieces, Skyspaces, Dark Spaces, etc - are preferable to the high-flown prose that their perceptual complexities often encourage (Georges Didi-Huberman's essay in this book is an example); and there are plenty of illustrations.

The problem, though, is that Turrell's work, eroding the boundaries of architecture (both literally and illusorily) in quest of the infinite, and frequently combining natural with artificial light, can't really be photographed. One installation in Vienna, with 'a dense pale blue radiating from an unfathomable depth', offered not just a coloured surface but 'total immersion' in colour. The Skyspaces, chambers with an oblong or oval opening onto the heavens (above), are for concentrated looking over time, while the Dark Spaces (profoundly dark) require acclimatisation of 10, even 20 minutes, before their optical effects begin to tell.

As Daniel Birnhaum notes in another included essay, often 'it's not exclusively about the eyes; it's as much about the body.' The Other Horizon is a useful reference but the experiences that Turrell creates for his audience can only be inferred.

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