James Turrell, illusion and reality according to novelist Geoff Dyer

Here the passage of “Jeff in Venice, death in Varanasi” in which author Geoff Dyer describes a James Turrell installation presented in Venice in 2003, according to the book, as a Biennale-related event (the work is not mentioned in the artist’s biography). Notice how it questions the relation between illusion and reality, probably the novel’s key.


“At first it looked like just a red painted rectangle, luminous against a dull background. Then, as they sat down and watched, it changed – but so subtly that it was impossible to tell how or when it had changed. The red became a slightly different red, a bit darker or brighter or something. The shape remained the same but, as the colour altered, so the edges of the frame became less rigid. There was a pulse in the changing redness. The surface of the picture was completely flat and infinitely deep. They sat without speaking. Time melted away, registered only in terms of the light and colour changing, to purple, to a deeper purple, a purple that was almost blue and then was blue… They were perhaps ten feet away from the light but there was no distance. The colour, the light, touched them. The cycle was beginning again. They stood up and reached into the flat surface of the red, but there was nothing there. It was impossible to feel the back or side of the light source. Their hands stretched out, suspended in the shifting red that was no longer quite red. It was an illusion, but because it was an illusion this did not mean it was less real than anything else, than things that were not illusory.”

July 17, 2015