This article by Wil S. Hylton from today’s NYT magazine about light artist James Turrell includes as good a description of mystical vision as anything. It turns on blinding intensity of light as the eye is forced to turn in on itself. The fact that it can be simulated in a machine is not beside the point. At issue is the import one is going to ascribe to this kind of perceptual disorientation. Have we touched upon the ultimate, or physical light and a trick of the eye; and are we just supposed to split the difference? Much of Turrell’s work is site specific in the desert. Like revelation? I’ll check out “Space that Sees,” his installation at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, next month and am looking forward to the upcoming Turrell exhibit at the Gugenheim.
The Perceptual Cells are Turrell’s most extreme work. The visitor approaches a giant sphere that looks like an oversize Ping-Pong ball and lies down on something like a morgue drawer to be pushed inside. When the door is shut, the lights come on, so bright that it’s almost pointless to close your eyes. As the colors shift and morph, you begin to see things that aren’t there, like tiny rainbows floating in space and crisp geometric forms. It turns out that what you’re seeing is the biological structure of your own eye, which, in the blinding intensity, has turned on itself.