It’s the burning question floating around London’s artworld these days. The number of smug souls who have entered James Turrell’s giant sphere at Gagosian Gallery slowly grows as the days pass, while others desperately long to get inside and experience first-hand what the buzz is all about.
For decades, the illustrious Californian artist has used light as his medium. His aspirations have never been modest. From transforming the Roden Crater in the Arizona desert into an astronomical observatory for the last thirty years, to the ongoing Perceptual Cells series informed by his studies in experimental psychology, Turrell seeks to transform our perceptions. He constructs environments that allow us to open our eyes and mind, and ‘see‘ in a way we have never before. Part of the Perceptual Cells series, Bindu Shards (2010), is an immersive psychedelic experience concocted by Turrell, who mixes light and sound to create a drug-like potion with all the fervour of a mad scientist.
If you have secured one of the much sought after appointments (Bindu Shards spots filled within 48 hours of opening bookings), you are one of the lucky ones, able to confidently stride up and drop your name with the same prestige of being on the VIP list at a highly exclusive event – while a gallery of observers look on enviously.
The spaceship-like structure of Bindu Shards seems to have landed straight out of a 1970s futuristic sci-fi film – the present as envisioned in the past. The impossibly chic, labcoat-wearing technician, who herself could have come from the same film, asks you a series of questions – Do you suffer from seizures? No. Have you taken any illicit drugs today? No. Which setting would you like – Hard or Soft? Sign the disclaimer and you’re in.
Leaving all your possessions behind to lie in a small white drawer, the technician rolls you inside. ‘Relax. And Enjoy,’ she says as the door slams shut – ‘And remember – there’s a panic button to your left if you need it…’
Hypnotic colors begin to wash over you in quintessential Turrell-like fashion, accompanied by resonating sonic tones meant to aid your passage into the alpha state of consciousness – somewhere between waking and sleeping. The intensity escalates as the light pulsates and shimmers, approaching you and in an sudden shift, fuses with your eyes. It is extremely disconcerting, however if you relax and ‘turn on, tune in, drop out,’ you will be rewarded.
Bindu Shards is truly an immersive experience – and least of all because of the environment. What Bindu Shards does is infiltrate your mind, overtake your synapses and blur the boundaries between what is real and what is not. Vision predicated on what you see in front of you is destroyed in favor of perception that stems from the inside – it is a completely new way of retinal ‘seeing’ based on what the mind produces in response to light and sound – it is in your eyes.
The fifteen minutes spent alone with your visions of light are intense, and most definitely not for the faint of heart. What you create, what you see and what you take away on your ‘trip’ is unique. You emerge with your possibilities for perception infinitely expanded and like a drug, long to go back for more.
With Turrell able to transform our state of consciousness so drastically within this tiny bubble, we can only await with breath that is bated to experience what he has spent the last three decades concocting at the elusive Roden Crater.