Redshift - James Turrell - Venice Biennale 2011

“... I'm very interested in this feeling, using the eyes to penetrate the space."
--James Turrell

Joining the queue for James Turrell’s Red Shift at the Venice Bienniale, I didn’t honestly know what to expect. I had encountered Deer Shelter a multitude of times at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and the phrase that springs to mind in order to describe the experience is “an interactive installation”; although really, it’s a lot more than that. It’s a site specific work and also a place of refuge. Its purpose is to cause you to sit down to think and reflect, while the space engulfs you. Deer Shelter consumes your every thought: you sit with your head tilted back and look up at the square hole in the roof, bringing the outside in (and if you sit for a little while, realising how fast clouds move). If this was anything to go by, in addition to people’s enthusiasm of joining a 45 minute queue, this was most likely to be worth the wait.

His work draws attention to the process of seeing, and Turrell has, for more than 45 years, continued to explore the possibilities of using light as his primary subject. It is this choice of medium that allows him to investigate the medium of perception; exploring the variety of perceptual interventions, from deprivation of the senses to optical effects. 

Ready for Redshift
As the queue shortened and it was finally our turn to experience Red Shift, we entered Turrell’s Territory; At first removing our footwear and replacing them with these very strange plastic bag like shoes, which seemed very peculiar and pretty much pointless since what we could see of Red Shift was a projection of a lone pink square on the wall with steps leading up to it. The Invigilator then kindly told us to “enter” Red Shift. Thinking the language Barrier had confused his use of adjectives, we waited for his self-correction. He motioned walking up the stairs, so we followed suit and astonished, found ourselves at the mouth of a hazy void.

It was the most disorienting 10 seconds in the world, like stepping into Heaven and entering a disturbing infinity. The light softly merged one colour to the next, like being inside a fibre-optic Christmas tree (use your imagination). Yet it wasn’t just light flooding the space, a sort of mist inhabited the room as well. The dimensions of the room were completely perplexing, we were hypnotized inside this shell of mystical light.

Turrell has managed to create an emptiness filled with light, presenting us with its physicality. It seemed he employs light to illuminate the form and structure, setting the basis for a complete transformation of a space into a multisensory experience.