James Turell: The Wolfsburg Project

The Wolfsburg Project

Ganzfeld - 2009 Exhibition: The Wolfsburg Project - Wolfsburg, Germany

In 2009, The Wolfsburg Museum of Art invited the American artist James Turell, to showcase his experiments with light illusions on a scale not yet seen before. For the museum located in Lower Saxony, Germany, this was to be the most ambitious project it had ever curated in its fifty years history. The result was a stunning Ganzfeld, walk-in light installation. Today the project remains as one of the most important works from the artist, who has been experimenting with discovering new light hues since the beginning of the 1960s

The term Ganzfeld has its origin in the psychological science of the 1970s. The scientists experimented with creating light settings in a whole field (Ganzfeld effect), allowing the test persons to get a feeling of being inside an increasingly dense fog, allowing them to dive deep into their own consciousness and inner self-being

James Turell: The Wolfsburg Project

Amrta - 2011 Exhibition: See! Color! - in Jarna, Stockholm, Sweden

James Turell lives on a farm in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he converted a volcano crater into a light observatory. There, between animals and plants, he can observe every day how living creatures react to light, plants turn towards the sun or moths fly into the candle.

He was born in Los Angeles in 1943 and studied mathematics, psychology, art, and art history. In order to earn money, he restored old aeroplanes or flew cargo with a transport aircraft. But all of these different educations are present in his projects, drawing references to sixteenth-century artists, who were experimenting with all the elements of creating the art itself and seamlessly moved between working with science and art. They would build lifts, arrange huge firework experiments and recreate all of their wildest fantasies. When the feudal principals broke away and the bourgeoisie rose to become the main buyer, it was somehow forgotten how versatile artists were back then.

For this reason exactly, the match between the Arizona artist and the Wolfsburg Museum Of Art seemed to be interesting, because the director Markus Brüderlin shared Turrell's relation to science art and how to exhibit it, allowing the visitor to feel and walk through the project itself. Previously the museum had been dealing with the question of how art could be exhibited and therefore Turell found a great match in terms of a partner for his installation.

James Turell: The Wolfsburg Project

Milk Run III - 2009 Exhibition: Wedgework Series - Paris, France

In the 700 square meter installation, Turell plays around with illusions, leading the visitor through a 30-meter long ramp, where it feels as if there is a wall stopping one, since there are not visible frames in this piece, consisting of thirty-six thousand deceiving light diodes. Turell is fascinated with human reactions under these circumstances, where each individual reacts differently to the framework presented to them or as the museum director Brüderlin puts it "The eye is not being stopped". This challenges how we move around the space, looking for the borders of the room, which is, of course, manipulated to create exactly this feeling.

James Turell: The Light Inside

Into the heart - 1999 Exhibition: The light inside - Houston, USA

James Turell compares the optical illusions with that of a pilot, who flies through the fog or similar to the feeling of walking in the dusk, where it seems that the colours are slowly fading away, the distances seem uncertain and all of sudden the eye can no longer determine the distance to the ground. We human beings are accustomed to orientate ourselves, using the horizon to balance, but with this dizziness created by Turell, one becomes uncertain about the reaction of the body step-by-step.

James Turell: The Wolfsburg Project

Bridget Bardo - 2009 Exhibition: The Wolfsburg Project - Wulfsburg, Germany

All the contours of the room disappear, in other moments walls seem to limit the space, but they do not exist at all. "Light does not just cover up, light can also cover up," Turell recalls.