Light is intangible, but essential for how we see and experience the world around us. The artist James Turrell has fashioned himself as a sculptor of light over the past fifty years, using natural and artificial light to create immersive spaces which challenge human perception, such as the Roden Crater which formed the backdrop for Kanye West's Jesus is King film, directed by SHOWstudio's founder Nick Knight. Now, Turrell has created an atmospheric installation for Swarovski Crystal Worlds (Swarovski Kristallwelten) in Austria.
Created in 1995, Swarovski Kristallwelten is a Disneyland for crystal lovers, art and fashion followers alike -The Art of Performance gallery recently opened and features a reproduction of the dress Marilyn Monroe famously wore to serenade President John F. Kennedy for his birthday in 1962, a fabulously camp jacket worn by Elton John and Nicole Kidman's sparkling black corset dress from Moulin Rouge. In short, it's bonkers and spellbinding in equal measure.
Collaborating with artists, architects and fashion designers including Yayoi Kusama, Zaha Hadid and Christian Dior (a partnership that dates back to 1956), Swarovski have traditionally welcomed creative minds into the fold, generating fresh perspectives on the historic Austrian brand. Turrell is the latest artist to be commissioned, creating the 18th Chamber of Wonder for Swarovski Kristallwelten; readers will likely remember the sell-out Kusama 'Chandelier of Grief' which travelled to Tate Modern. Turrell's Umbra, 2022 is Swarovski's most abstract collaboration yet, and this is a route Carla Rumler (Cultural Director Swarovski and Curator Swarovski Crystal Worlds), tells me she would like to explore more for future projects. 'You have to look outside the box, but keep the balance between art, design and the commercial', she determines, adding that James Turrell has always been at the top of her wish list. Despite the absence of physical crystals in the space, the concept of light is very much at the core of Swarovski, and the use of crystals in the installations at Kristallwelten is never a requirement made by the brand. 'Light is such an ingredient for crystal, and Turrell experiments with spectral light. He's the only one who works with light like this', Rumler explains. Stefan Isser, the Managing Director of D. Swarovski Tourism Services GmbH, summed up the collaboration nicely to press at a preview of the exhibition: 'Light is the soul of crystal.'
Visitors to Swarovski Kristallwelten will quickly discover that being a mere absent bystander is not an option when it comes to Turrell's work; Umbra, 2022 challenges the viewer's perception of light, time and space. Entering through an archway, the architecture of the room is refashioned by light, which becomes a magical substance given physical form. The onlooker's eye actively mixes the colours emanating from hidden light sources around the archway and a rectangular shape on the back wall; the laws of perception are upended as the edges of the room blur into infinity. It's no surprise to learn that Turrell is formally educated in perceptual psychology.
From lilac to blue, orange to red to pink, the longer one spends in the space, the more the experience evolves. It is also a rare permanent installation of the artist's Shallow Space series. 'This is a kind of light that is very soft and filling that I love. If you are looking at this piece, it is not about the light that surrounds the edge, it is the large expanse or panorama of this very soft light that actually comes from the reflection in the room', the artist told press over video call at the preview. This idea of the shadow, created by the sun, is where the artwork Umbra, 2022 takes its name from.