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Issue 16 May 1994 RSS

James Turrell

Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York, USA

One must enter and exit through a pitch-black corridor; this juncture is where James Turrell’s installation begins. A maze of light turns must be carefully navigated, so that one avoids touching those passing in and out of the centre. In total darkness one may be hesitant to walk freely; small stumbling steps are taken instead. The entrance is a decompression chamber, an apparatus that momentarily rids the body of its own corporeality.

John Cassavetes walks into the club. His tuxedo is wrinkled and his necktie is undone. He has to walk into this club, because he must have a place to leave to appear on Diahnne Abbott’s front doorstep. It must be atmospheric so that we can allow her to let him in. He stands in the centre of the room, looking at the stage. It doesn’t matter what he’s looking at, only that he can. It doesn’t matter what’s there, because there only exists so that it may be left.

The room is red, because the light is red. It juts out of itself, the edges encircling those inside. Space is limited. A series of wedges carve out a small tract in which to manoeuvre. The unbalanced body of another is likely to make contact, so it is important to keep track of all movement. The stage is red and warm, the inside of something worth reaching into. Distance is marked out in soft hues and vapours. The distance becomes a Fata Morgana which hovers between the room and the stage, between the stage and the wall.

Once encased, all participants begin to stare. There is nothing to see, nothing going on, but this incessant watching. One’s breath in is another’s breath out, and everything is contingent on this trade. Alone, the experience is ascetic, a surreal landscape set on continual pause. When others crowd the room one begins to feel the paranoia that comes from standing close to strangers under the gleaming red of a velvet-lined confessional. Everyone is watching nothing in unison.

Ben Gazzara must leave the club to make a hit. The club is lit with red lights. The girls are pretty, although some are not. The men watch, but do not pay attention: they just like the atmosphere. If the act of watching, of instilling the gaze is more stimulating than the object, then that object becomes nebulous - a genderless lump which thrills to the availability of its image. The stage creates the distance, the opportunity for the eye to travel up and down without the slightest touch or command.

Turrell’s stage is delicately roped off. This rope whets one’s appetite. Is it there to protect the expanse or the viewer? A suggestion has been planted. Insulation is a possible alternative. The cropped runway may mesmerise, may encourage a fantasy about enclosed spaces lit for the bump and grind of a slo-mo strip. Turrell, the pruner of optical illusion, may enable one to lift the veil off spiritual America.

Collier Schorr

About this article

Issue 16 cover

First published in
Issue 16, May 1994

by Collier Schorr

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