End Around (2006)

James Turrell: The Light Inside
Thru Sep 22
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet St.
713-639-7300
mfah.org 

The centerpiece of the James Turrell show at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is a room-like environment that simulates the experience of a blizzard’s total white out. 

Titled End Around, the installation is what Turrell calls a ganzfeld, or "complete field." You have to remove your shoes to enter it. Guards help you climb the stairs and cross the threshold onto the shining floor. On the rear wall a screen projects a very intense colored light—it was yellow the day I was there—but the floor and the walls are an equally intense uniform white that erases any clear sense of the space’s dimensions. You can’t see a line where the floor and the wall meet, so the space feels much less like a container than it does like an unbounded field.

I found it to be very disturbing. I couldn’t establish a line to set my balance by and became dizzy. I didn’t know where to move or how to move to find an orientation. For a very brief moment, I felt—no kidding—that I was becoming diffused myself, thinning out at the edges, becoming invisible. I left with a guard’s help as fast as I could.

With my shoes back on, I went through the rest of the exhibition and decided to man-up and try again. The second time was more comfortable. I knew what to expect and could think about the light not as the medium of our visual experience, something we see through, but light as a palpable presence, a thing.

Since then I have kept thinking about light as both the means and the metaphor for the real continuity of our bodily experience and our consciousness in any act of understanding.

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