James Turrell work in Vancouver

February 09, 2024 CICA Vancouver

*Guest post photos and writing by Codrin Talaba - a spatial researcher curious to archive art and culture.

Passing through Vancouver for a week and checking with a few art friends what was new or interesting, a James Turrell exhibit came up. Asking how the experience was, I was surprised to hear that none of them had actually gone to see it - nor was it at a gallery they had been to before. So I spent two hours as a participant in the exhibit Special Exhibition: James Turrell – Light, Space and the Art of Perception at the Center of International Contemporary Art Vancouver. As an architectural researcher and avid art enthusiast, here are some observations on what worked well in the overall art viewing experience and some perceptual and spatial aspects that could be improved upon.
The viewing experience starts in the lobby waiting area, where a video with sound bites introduce James Turrell's work. Visitors are encouraged to spend a few minutes in a transitionary space, marked by red projector light, before entering the two light artworks on the first floor.
A write-up on the wall introduces the concept of the Ganzfeld effect, in preparation for the experience that Turrell light pieces are famous for. The artist is quoted: 'What we want to accomplish is to bring you to an awareness of the perception of perceiving yourself percieving'. The visitors may remain in this transitionary space for as long as they like to prepare to experience the artworks on the other side of a blackout curtain.
The first floor has two light artworks on opposite walls of a partially open exhibit space, Uriel, 2023 (Eclipse shape work) and Ariel, 2022 (Diamond shape work). Visitors may move around the wall-embedded pieces to experience them at various distances and angles. At a close-up range of a few feet, the perceptual impact of the work is signature Turrell, matching what the introductory write-up states: 'these works present an undifferentiated visual field - vast, pure, and devoid of reference points'.
However, once viewers step back a few more feet, light bouncing and leaking from the open architectural layout and materiality of the exhibit space begins to distract from the stated intentions.
It was not just me noticing. At times and in certain locations, distractions were more subtle. At others, they were more noticeable.
My intention to focus my attention on the perceptual details of the artworks was distracted by the background light bouncing off the polished concrete and cracks in the flooring when experiencing either of the pieces from more than a few feet away.
As a visitor approaches Uriel from the entry, this is what they see from a first-person point of view.
At times and in certain locations, the surrounding architectural details of the exhibit space compete for the viewer's attention and this impacts the overall viewer experience.
The second floor contained prints and an educational exhibit.
Four prints on the wall: Carn, Enzu, Gard and Squat (from Still Light suite), 1990–91 Aquatint Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Gift of Estelle and Paul Berg. Providing insight into the artist's process is noted, yet the perceptual attention to detail could be improved upon by removing the folds and creases inside the two bottom frames.
The last portion of the exhibit contained educational videos and documentation of Roden Crater, a large-scale artwork in a volcanic crater in Arizona that Turrell has been transforming since 1972.
Perhaps the most successful part of the exhibit is the educational aspect of introducing two light pieces in the context of Turrell's larger body of work to a new audience in Vancouver. More attention to perceptual details would benefit from a better integration of the light artworks and the physical space to minimize perceptual distractions so the stated intentions of the work themselves can shine unimpeded.
The question of who has access to conceptual light art in Vancouver can also be asked: $25 for an adult ($12 students, senior tickets). Open Wed. – Sat. 11 am – 6 pm, Special Exhibition: James Turrell – Light, Space and the Art of Perception at the Center of International Contemporary Art Vancouver, from Dec 07, 2023 - Feb 17, 2024.
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