All notes with the topic Maura Brewer | Notes on Looking

James Turrell: A Dissent—Part One: Refreshed and Energized: Installation, Subjectivity and the Spa Experience by Maura Brewer

In the catalog James Turrell: A Retrospective, Michael Govan describes Turrell’s ongoing artistic inquiry into the gap between “internal” subjective experience and “external” objective phenomena. This idea manifests in Turrell’s light installations as visual experiments that capitalize on the perceptual instability of color. The blue of the sky, seen through an open window, becomes green, purple, or red depending on a changing set of choreographed lighting effects. The inherent variability of color undermines the fiction of a stable, enduring “external” reality, and the consequences are meant to be revelatory: a transcendent merging of self and other, the act of “removing the distance between the perceiver and the object in order to see ‘truth’…”1 Turrell’s work, according to Govan, speaks to the radical dislocation of the perceiving self. His reading of Turrell hews closely to contemporary and postmodern ideas about the relativity of knowledge, and the instability of the subject position. Govan suggests that Turrell is engaged in the production of a kind of strategic disorientation or disturbance of his audience.2 And to be sure, certain accounts of Turrell’s work conform to Govan’s analysis – his museum retrospective in 1980 ended in several lawsuits when visitors became dizzy, resulting in sprained wrists and broken arms.3 But there is another way to understand Turrell – a reading that has cropped up in the press around his exhibitions in LA and New York. This interpretation deemphasizes the dislocating effects of vision, and focuses instead on a kind of holistic immersion, the ultimate aim of which is a therapeutic re-centering of body and mind. In a recent LA Times article, Deborah Vankin describes...