James Turrell’s Autonomous Structures Challenge Perceptions of Light

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Over the course of two decades, renowned American artist James Turrell created a series of fifteen “Autonomous Structures”, each intended to challenge the viewer’s experience of light. The series stemmed from Turrell’s 1970s conversion of the Roden Crater, an extinct volcano in Arizona, into an observatory. Each structure was created to emulate the crater’s chamber by hosting either a “skyspace” – a small opening facing the sky, or a “ganzfeld” – a dissolving field of light that immerses a space in a luminous haze. Turrell, a pilot who has over twelve thousand hours’ flying experience, takes his inspiration from the sky, saying “my work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing. I’m also interested in the sense of presence of space; that is space where you feel a presence, almost an entity – that physical feeling and power that space can give.”

All images © courtesy of James Turrell

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