My passion for Land Art led me to the United States where my desire was to discover the spaces and the sources of an artistic approach which is bound to the experience of a place. To this end, I chose James TURRELL who researches into the plastic arts, utilising light and space as foundations. Living in Flagstaff, Arizona, James TURRELL is an experienced pilot who uses the sky as a source of inspiration, and perception as a medium. In manipulating light in space, James TURRELL creates special visual effects which fall between interior and exterior perception.–
In «PASSAGEWAYS» my choice has been to show less, in order to show more. It was not a question of making a biographical film nor an exhaustive study of his work, but rather to transpose a thought process and a very particular artistic approach, via the perceptual experience of a single work and a single place. Space being created by light, James TURRELL endeavours to make use of «this perceptual consciousness» created by experience in insisting on the notion of «the naked eye», this instrument which allows one to see even in darkness, after a certain period of adaptation. His work plays on the limits of sight, sometimes plunging the viewer into almost total darkness; sometimes the intensity of the light is so weak that the work appears 15 minutes later.
In each exhibition, James TURRELL has to modify vision to reconstruct the space called the «perceptual environment», that he fills with a light, chosen with care, in playing with the subtleties of retinal perception: be it in the construction of a new space in the same interior of the place from where the light bursts forth, or be it in the working on the exterior of the space itself, in order to play with the natural light of the sky.
I have, therefore, chosen to show only one work «Meeting»: a chamber open to the sky which allows me, in filming the interior, to catch a glimpse of the grand plan of the RODEN CRATER. The Roden Crater is a volcano situated in the region of the «PAINTED DESERT», at 100 kilometres from Flagstaff, Arizona, in the territory of the Hopi Indians. Bought by James TURRELL in 1977, «RODEN CRATER» is his great work, and a synthesis of his artistic approach.
Influenced by the observatory model, (in particular that of the sites in antiquity designed to observe the sun and the stars, such as Stonehenge in England and Abu Simbel in Egypt), TURRELL undertook the construction of a network of observation chambers and corridors open to the sky. A Flying instructor, he located this site through his numerous flights over the east coast of the United States.
Light, space and time are the visual parameters of James TURRELL. He himself, insists on the power of images created by the dream, and interests himself in the mythical force of a place; in this instance the Arizona desert, and what the place generates in the form of images from the past. In its interior voyage and its metaphor of place, the film is privileged by the presence of his friend, «Chief of the Eagle tribe», the HOPI Indians Gene SEKAQUAPTEWA. James TURRELL particularly solicited his aid in the construction of a subterranean chamber inspired by HOPI «Kivas» (which are underground chambers serving at one and the same time, as a temple, workshop, club or HOPI dormitory for the practice of religious ceremonies). These chambers, always oriented towards the east, have a very small aperture opening to the sky, precisely calculated to only allow the light to enter at the time of the winter solstice (21 December) – the moment when the angle of the sun is at its lowest but stable for four days, and beneficial to re-heating of the earth: the beginning of the «seeding time».
In the work «MEETING» filmed during an entire day (one image per second), I have transposed the physical experience of TURRELL’s work, immersed in light and its multiple gradients from the rising to the setting of the sun. In the film, the encounter between James TURRELL and the HOPI Chief illustrates the clear link between the artist and an ancestral memory, their communal veneration of the sky, space and solar rhythms, and the search for a non-mystical spirituality.
Equally, I was inspired by James TURRELL’s text working, with emotion, his discovery of RODEN CRATER in flying over the Arizona desert; it is more than just a place, it is an apprehension of all the gradations of light between the sky and the earthly foundation of his art.
Text by Carine ASSCHER © C.A. Productions, 1995.
Published in “Mehr Licht” by Merve Verlag Berlin , 1999.
With texts by Peter Bexte, Wolfgang Hagen, Friedrich Kittler, Henning Lohner, Francis Ponge, Paul Virilio.