Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Turrell, James - VM - Olga Lah


James Turrell: Breathing Light   


Within the Light 

by Olga Lah 

Look within yourself and welcome the light. Quaker adage 

James Turrell is an American artist who has spent much of his career working with the medium of light. Rather than offering objects, he creates or captures specific experiences of light itself. He places his audience in unusual situations and confronts them with optical phenomena that are astonishing.  


In Turrell’s Breathing Light one rises up a flight of stairs and enters into what appears from afar to be a rectangular box of light, but actually is a hollowed out space. The interior is flooded with colored light, creating an environment where the viewer feels absorbed into a dense, haze-like atmosphere. A long window floats in front of the viewer. When standing at the brink of its edge one has the impression of gazing into infinity. There appear to be no edges, no visible dimensions and no point of orientation—outer boundaries and surrounding space are imperceptible. The colors transform gradually, between soft blues, glowing magentas, to a calm and revelatory white. These installation is based on Ganzfeld (meaning ‘complete field’ in German) experiments, a type of scientific experiment using sensory stimulation caused by a uniform and unstructured visual field. It was originally devised in Germany in the 1930’s. This technique was later used to test extrasensory perception (ESP). 

Breathing Light is a luminous installation, marrying the immediate and transcendent. It is a work that embodies light and gives it a palpable presence. For Turrell his work is not an end in itself, but a means of allowing people to experience natural occurrences that already exist in the world with a renewed sense of wonder and perhaps even awe. He has said that his desire is to set up a situation to which he takes viewers and allows them to see. His work is calculated to make those who observe its effects peculiarly aware of the very act of observation—and also of the extent to which the limits of human perception frame all experience. He is keenly interested in how perception creates one’s understanding of reality. 

Thus Turrell’s medium of light not only points to how we experience our external world, but also our internal. “Look within yourself and welcome the light” is an old Quaker saying that was often repeated to Turrell in his upbringing. Breathing Light touches on a form of experience that can exist within us—an inner life that is silent, meditative and transformative. It is an illuminated manifestation of an interior world. It is a reminder that when we go within ourselves, we gain understanding by the Spirit of God who dwells within us. Breathing Light seems to exist in a space between natural and spiritual, enticing us to take in and marvel at the numinous light around and within us, to move in flux from outside to inside, so that we may rest in knowing our deepest collaboration with the phenomena of the divine. 


James Turrell: Breathing Light, 2013, latitude: 34.06441, longitude: 118.359214, LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los AngelesCAUnited States

James Turrell (b. 1943) was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. His undergraduate studies at PomonaCollege focused on perceptual psychology and mathematics. He received a MFA from ClaremontGraduateSchool. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the prestigious Guggenheim and MacArthur “genius” fellowships. Turrell’s work involves explorations in light and space, impacting the eye, body and mind. His fascination with the phenomena of light is ultimately connected to a very personal inward search for mankind’s place in the universe. Influenced by his Quaker faith, which he characterizes as enabling a “straightforward, strict presentation of the sublime,” Turrell’s art prompts greater self-awareness through a similar discipline of silent contemplation, patience and meditation. More about James Turrell and his work can be found at 

Olga Lah is a site-specific installation artist residing in Los Angeles. More about her and her artwork can be found at  

ArtWay Visual Meditation October 20, 2013