James Turrell’s Wedgework V

James Turrell Wedgework V 1975 Flourescent Light dimensions variable, approx. 276 x 287 x 143 in. Courtesy Abstract Select Ltd, UK Copyright: James Turrell, Photo by Philipp Scholtz Ritterman

In Beau Lotto’s 2009 TED Talk, he takes the audience through a small series of examples and visual exercises to illustrate the gap between reality and perception. Colors are created through layers of shaded panes, films, shadows, and the positioning of objects. Scientifically speaking, the mind collects and stores these visual images, creating patterns so that images in the physical world are readily discerned: a red apple, blue stained glass, a field of flowers.

James Turrell has been working with light and space since the late 60s, and has completed projects like Skyspace, a Quaker meetinghouse in which a square of open sky replaces the ceiling. In Wedgework V, on view now at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, Turrell further manipulates perception by defying set visual patterns.

Wedgework V by James Turrell at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. Photo by Sam Hodgson.

Wedgework V is an experience that begins with an open, door-sized entrance. Except for the reflective strip on the black wall, the corridor leading into the work is pitch black. The blind walk may be used to create a blank slate, a type of enforced sensory deprivation to prepare the viewer for the work. Once inside the room, an entire wall glows red with manifold planes set back from one another. The installation challenges viewer perceptions of depth, color, light and space. It is initially unclear whether Wedgework V is a flat projection, colored screens, or an entire room of translucent materials and artificial light. Light glows around the border of the first and second planes, and seems to emanate from behind the third. In reality, the installation is a room equipped with fluorescent light and light-reflective paint. The first plane, or window, that the viewer sees is merely a square cut out of the wall. Wedgework V was created in 1975, but its relevance to contemporary culture holds philosophically with our trend towards pluralism and spiritually in our fascination with mystery and syncretism.

from Rodencrater.com

Currently, James Turrell is working on the Roden Crater, an architectural dome built above a 400,000 year-old extinct volcanic cone. Turrell is using natural phenomena and other sources to illuminate the structure, which will contain some twenty spaces. The Roden Crater, inspired by Machu Picchu, the Egyptian pyramids, and other ancient structures draws on natural surroundings in order to bridge time: “I wanted an area of exposed geology like the Grand Canyon or the Painted Desert, where you could feel geologic time…I wanted to make spaces that engaged celestial events in light so that the spaces performed a ‘music of the spheres’ in light.”

The Roden Crater is still under construction, and will not be completed for a few years. But the creation of this project continues to reflect the spirit of contemporary culture—building environments that support and draw on natural phenomena, and seeking continuity with the past and future.