Renaming James Turrell

Artwork name: Aten Reign, 2013.  Artist: James Turrell

In this weird 21st-century world we live in, we sometimes run into surreal encounters between nature and technology. My last experience of this kind involves rural Spain and high-tech toilets.

Here’s the story: my uncles run a country house hotel in Spain, and they decided one of the bedroom would have an “extra luxury”.

Said luxury consists of one of those toilets that have “enhanced capabilities”: a heated seat and regulable bidet functions

Some research revealed that these are very basic functions: in Japan, toilets can even produce «princess» sounds. I then found the definitive accessory: the Illumibowl, a motion-activated toilet light. “You won’t need to suffer from night blindness again!”, says the web. 

Thrilled, I searched for pictures… and realized they remind me of the work of James Turrell. Of his 2013 “Aten Reign” project, specifically:

That’s why I’m renaming this work “Illuminated toilet (say no to night blindness)

What is this work actually about? Is Japan involved in any way?

Since the 1960s, LA-born artist James Turrell has been creating work about light and space, and about the optical effects that we can achieve with light.

In the 1970s Turrell began building “Skyspaces”: rooms with a hole in the roof which opens directly to the sky. These rooms want to alter the way we see by allowing you to look at the sky as if it was framed.

Knight Rise, at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, is one of the 14 Skyspaces open to the public in the USA

In his Skyspaces, Turrell is playing with how we perceive the world. This is a constant in his work, and is also the idea behind Aten Reign. Aten Reign was a project Turrell created specifically for the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2013 that transformed Frank Lloyd Wright’s building into one of his Skyspaces.

Turrell created a tower of concentric rings that filled the museum’s central atrium, and also added LED lights programmed to slowly change colors. The skylight at the top of the building allowed natural light in. The Guggenheim has a great video about how it was conceived and installed.

The Guggenheim NY’s rotunda transformed into Aten Reign

As the Skyspaces do, Aten Reign creates optical illusions with light to alter our perception. “Looking up, the three-dimensionality of the space seems to disappear”, wrote of her experience at the Guggenheim Claire Voon for The Wild Magazine.

If you want to learn more about the science behind the optical effects created by natural and artificial light in Aten Reign, Popular Science has an amazing article about it.

So same as my uncles do, James Turrell’s practice creates interactions between nature and technology. This is more evident in his most famous project, Roden Crater: a volcanic cone he bought in 1977 and has since been transforming into a massive observatory. Roden Crater has lately been in the spotlight again when we learned Kanye West was donating $10 million to it. I certainly won’t call that throwing your money down the toilet…

More works by Turrell:

Catso Violet, 1967
Roden Crater
“Bridget’s Bardo” by James Turrell at the Kunstmuseum, Wolfsburg, Germany, 2009. Photo courtesy James Turrell Studio. © James Turrell





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