Beyond the Light

Dhatu (2009) — James Turrell

During the mid 1960’s, light and space became a loosely affiliated art movement related to op art, minimalism and abstraction. Influenced by American artist John McLaughlin, the movement was characterized by a focus on perceptual phenomenon and became well known throughout California. Artists integrated ideas of light, volume and scale, and the use of materials such as glass, neon, fluorescent lights and cast acrylic. Led by installation artists Robert Irwin and James Turrell, the pair specialized in the phenomenon of sensory deprivation, and became curious about pushing the boundaries of art and perception.

Turrell’s work lies at the intersection of two ideas: non-traditional art and artwork as an experience. His main objective was to transform light into art, thereofore manipulating the viewers personal experience. Using the psychology of perception, Turrell’s work aims to reveal how vision intersects with the brain. In his 1999 installation The Light Inside, Turrell turns the walls of a tunnel into vessels for conducting light. Turrell’s intention is for the audience to glare at the center of the light, and gives one the sense of floating in space. The Light Inside utilizes neon and ambient light as a changing cycle of illumination, and incorporates bright colors of blue, crimson and magenta.

The Light Inside (1999) — James Turrell

Likewise, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away at the Broad museum in Los Angeles channels her inner Turrell, that too projects a cycle of illumination using endless LED light displays. Upon walking into the Infinity Mirrored Room, we are immersed into Kusama’s vision and mind for a mere minute, yet that minute tends to feel like infinity. Kusama’s Infinity Mirror series; however, has become more of a tourist attraction, with many Instagram feeds flooded with selfies inside the exhibit. Nonetheless, he Infinity Mirrored Room is a perfect example of the exploration of light and space using mirror-lined installations, rather than traditional mediums such as painting and sculpture.

“Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” by Yayoi Kusama

Although not associated with light and space, abstract painter Karl Benjamin and his work similarly feature a vast array of colors and hard-edged shapes that offer a striking resemblance to Turrell’s installations. Benjamin’s Corridor can be viewed as an early rendition of The Light Inside. While the two artworks differentiate in color, both artists can agree on one thing: a fascination with the phenomenon of how colors can appear to change when juxtaposed amongst one another.

Corridor (1960) — Karl Benjamin

Turrell set a high standard in the contemporary world with his otherworldly installations that continue to have a prominent influence today. Artists such as Phillip K. Smith III and Olafur Eliasson have strengthen the legacy of the light and space movement, and continue to show art critics and museum-goers what can be created without the use of a formal template or canvas. Even hip-hop artist Drake has taken influence from Turrell, using similar backdrops of his artwork in the music video for his song “Hotline Bling”. He was even quoted as saying “I F*** with Turrell.” The movement continues to spread worldwide and we can only expect more to come from the next generation of light and space artists.

Lucid Stead (2013) — Phillip K. Smith III
Olafur Eliasson, Seu corpo da obra (Your body of work), 2011 © 2011 Olafur Eliasson. Foto: Anders Sune Berg. Installation view, Moderna Museet/ArkDes, Stockholm 2015