James Turrell, Aten Reign
Aten Reign, the central artwork of James Turrell’s exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York this summer, is a remarkable installation that recasts the famous spiralling rotunda of the museum into something resembling the interior of a massive kaleidoscope. Through his inspired use of space and light, Turrell, an American artist who works with light as an artistic medium, asks us to slow our typical pace of viewing art such that we begin to reflect on the process of seeing itself.
Constructed from a series of white scrim cylinders hung from the atrium’s central skylight, Aten Reign has been described as a kind of stack of lampshades viewed from the inside. Each scrim ring is edged with LEDs that emit a gradually shifting spectrum of light over a 60-minute cycle. Seen from below, Aten Reign looks initially like a simple array of glowing concentric bands orbiting a central, unchanging eye. Over time, though, a creeping sensation builds that the space has a life of its own. The rings of light shimmer, expand outward, then contract. The colours ebb and flow from blazing reds, to soothing blues, to velvety purples. As the cycle fades to grey then white light, the space itself seems to drain of warmth and energy. Ghostly afterimages of intense colours flicker and skip in one’s field of vision as the cycle begins again.
By making the passage of time so pivotal in viewing his work, Turrell is extraordinarily effective in asking viewers to reflect on not just what but how we perceive. Like other works by Turrel, Aten Reign reminds us that we are active agents in constructing our visual experiences.
Photo credit: David Heald, for the Guggenheim website
- Suzanne Hood