Letting the light in: James Turrell, ASU partner on artwork | Arizona State University


You see a light. I didn’t know the sky was so big. Your mind, for the first time, is never ready
for what you see. We could just take it in. All points of origin for everything that we
know is the energetic event called light in which the universe was created. I used the material light to affect, or work,
the medium of perception. It has a lot to do with, first of all, sensing
light. There’s the light outside that he makes physical,
but the end result is an awareness somehow of our light inside. I think it would be virtually impossible not
to come through this space and not be transformed by it. You don’t look at light the same way again. James Turrell never really made a traditional
painting or sculpture. And he talks a lot about light being his medium,
light and perception. Light led him to think about how light can
be in a space. He was in his studio in Santa Monica, and,
as the story goes, this was a studio where he’d cut apertures into the studio and let
light in. He was kicked out of his studio, and he crisscrossed
the western United States looking for a butte or a volcano. This is the volcano that he found. It’s called Roden Crater. You take one of these volcanic craters, you
bore a hole through it, you turn it into a telescope. You make the telescope a natural object, unpowered
by lenses, and you then allow that object to then interact with the light of the universe
around us. James constructed this by positioning it geometrically
in a way where the lunar and solar orbits are such that he can get 4,000 years of use
of this place. Roden Crater is about a mile and a half in
diameter, to give you a sense of the scale, and James for the last 40-some years has been
sculpting the rim of the crater to create this experience of celestial vaulting. But he’s also been creating and has envisioned
23 different spaces and chambers. It’s by one artist but it’s too big for that
artist to build himself in this case. And one of the challenges has been to create
a structure for patronage. And James Turrell and the project’s been lucky
that over the years a few people have been here and said, “Oh, my, this is not like anything
else. We should support this.” Our university is working to throw off the
constraints of the past structurally, throw off the constraints of the past intellectually
and then engage in these new ways of thinking, engage light, art, science, culture, nature,
all at once. So our university and where we’re headed is
very much connected to the whole spirit of Roden Crater, the whole spirit of James Turrell
and what he’s trying to do, and this is an empowering moment for us, because now we’re
finding other ways in which the university of the future’s being built. We’re colliding these two things together
in a way where we’re going to get a positive synergy out of these two organizations taking on this
project for the indefinite future. There really is no other example that I can
think of of an artwork that becomes the centerpiece of creating a whole new way of thinking, a
whole new educational model. That over time, as more people engage with
it, can make significant institutional change and impact the planet and the world we live
in. This is not always satisfactory because often
people who are buying art want treasure. We do love treasure. We love things. But I actually love the thing-ness of light
itself. You can’t take anything home. The concrete’s here, the stone is here, the
sky stays here. But you take that well-being, that understanding
with you. And I think that’s what our time is all about
right now. Everybody has an idea they want to put in
the world. What’s the invitation to add your idea to
the world? And can Roden Crater, can James Turrell, be
that invitation? I think it can be. I’m very happily providing here, you know,
at the end of the tunnel, a light at the end of the tunnel that then provides you with
a golden stairway into the sky. That has a lot to do with what I’ve wanted
to see and wanted to experience during the conscious awake state, during this lifetime. Everyone talks about this in the future. People talk about, you know, what comes after
life, all that sort of thing. Well, I’d like to see it now. So I’m just making my own kind of slight heaven
on earth.

Dereck Turner

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