Light Reignfall , Turrell’s “perceptual cell” was an immersive experience where each visitor was provided with noise-cancelling headphones and instructed to lie down on a narrow bed. Turrell made use of highly complex technology – once lying down, the visitor entered the spherical chamber (which resembled an MRI scanner) and was shown a sequence of fluctuating colours and intensities of light, all operated by a technician. The cell was made of fibreglass, steel and neon light, and when inside visitors were totally devoid of spatial awareness for the duration of the 11-minute programme.
Turrell aims to shift our focus away from art as an object or a thing, and instead advocates “slow art,” encouraging visitors to his exhibitions to take the time to fully immerse themselves in the light experience. He has explained his intentions for his visitors, saying, “My work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing.”
He perceives human beings as “creatures of light” – and cites Plato’s allegory of the cave as a key influence. Turrell puts forward the idea that as humans we are living in a reality of our own creation, “subject to our human sensory limitations as well as contextual and cultural norms.”
For his Aten Reign exhibition in 2013, Turrell used an oculus in the ceiling of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building in the Guggenheim Museum to percolate natural light into the conical, atrium-like space. Around the oculus, hanging from the ceiling were five circular pieces of fabric, each shifting in colour due to thousands of computer-controlled LED light fixtures. The effect is extra-terrestrial in more ways than one – Turrell juxtaposes technology with nature to generate mesmerisingly colourful rays of artificial light around a moon-like axis of natural daylight.