A Turrell Trick of the Eye

 

Dissolve (Curved Wide Glass), 2017 Collection of Hudson C. Lee © James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

 

There really are only two types of Turrell people: The Believers and the Unimpressed. Even then, I remain unmoved in my theorizing they just haven’t met their Turrell moment yet.

My first experience with Turrell was at one of his Skyspaces.  No art adorns the walls; it was a simple white room lined with wooden benches. People causally strolled in with pillows and yoga mats, stretching out across the benches, positioning themselves comfortably on the floor.  And then the show started.

In a Turrell Skyspace, an aperture in the ceiling is slowly revealed, carving out a small piece of sky as the surrounding ceiling is cast with a symphony of light–colors soft and pale – intense yet warm, continually evolving. As they change so it seems does the color of the sky. We refer to them as Turrell colors–everything bathed in his light looks celestial, and surreal.

At some point, you lose your grip on what expanse is the sky or the boundary above your head. perception can lose its bearing and wander outside the realm of true north for however long Turrell intends his trip to last.  Turrell once said in an interview, “I can make the sky any color you choose.”

Raethro II, Magenta (Corner Shallow Space), 1970 Collection of Myffanwy Anderson
© James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

 

Off of Route 2, in the sleepy town of North Adams, Massachusetts, MASS MoCA is currently exhibiting Into the Light, a James Turrell retrospective bringing together light installations from every stage of the 74-year-old artist’ five-decade career.

Using his background in psychology and mathematics, and years of knowledge, exploring and manipulating the ways people’s eyes and brains process light and space, he reigns as a Master Welder of Illusion.

The relationship between perception, light and time is intimately explored in his installations. For some, the absence of physical art such as paintings or sculpture in his work, begs the question of whether it can really be considered as an art form. Turrell has often acknowledged this disconnect in contemporary art between the audience and the artist; “Generally, audiences are looking towards what they like, and I can tell you, that’s the last thing on an artist’s mind… I don’t know if I believe in art. I certainly believe in light.”


James Turrell: Into the Light (Installation view), 2017
© James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

There are nine Turrell rooms to experience in the expanded exhibition space of MASS MoCA’s newly opened, Building 6. Perfectly Clear (Ganzfeld), a two-story installation, is hands-down, the centerpiece of the retrospective.

Early in his career, Turrell conducted experiments based on the Ganzfeld effect, (from German, for “complete field”) where the viewer experiences a loss of depth perception caused by exposure to an unstructured, uniform field lacking aural or visual stimulation, as in a whiteout. To date, Perfectly Clear is his largest Ganzfeld room by volume.

Upon entering the room, you are given paper booties to wear.  Attendants escort you up a flight of stairs to a massive opening with curved walls. You step into a white void gradually filled with light and changing colors. It quickly becomes difficult to discern where the walls begin and the ceiling ends, creating a feeling of walking toward what seems a mesmerizing endless expanse.


Perfectly Clear (Ganzfeld), 1991 Gift of Jennifer Turrell
© James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

 

A Turrell trick of the eye remains far more scientific than the surreal calming meditations his spaces might suggest. The sensory deprivation experiment Hind Sight (Dark Space)1984, guides the viewer through a dark corridor with the help of handrails into an even darker chamber. Devoid of any visual stimuli it’s all at once disorienting. Once seated, (yes, those handrails lead to seats), the viewer spends 10 to 15 minutes waiting for their pupils to fully dilate, at which point they begin to notice the faint presence of a dim light. The space is not about what one is supposed to see but the experience of what Turrell describes as “seeing yourself see”.

Afrum, 1967, a projection on loan from the Guggenheim, is one of Turrell’s earliest works on view. The piece uses light as a sculptural medium. Light is projected from a corner of the room near the ceiling, casting a shape on the opposite side of the room, as a white cube seems to float in the corner of the room.

Afrum (Projection), 1967

Collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

© James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

 

Into the Light, will remain on long-term view at MASS MoCA. Making reservations for timed entry into Perfectly Clear, and Hindsight through the museum’s website is highly recommended.

They Left Their Hearts at Casa Azul: How The Frida Kahlo Emojis Came To Be

The spell of Frida Kahlo is like a beacon, drawing to her work those who see their anguish, heartache, resilience or celebration of life expressed in her paintings.  Under Frida’s hue, they find inspiration enough to keep, share or pledge allegiance to her memory on bags, t-shirts or pilgrimages to Frida’s beloved home, Casa Azul.

This year Snapchat devoted one of their International Women’s Day filters to Frida—just a click adorned you with her trademarks braids, a crown of flowers, and red lips underneath a proper unibrow.

The multi-generational Mexican artist with a devoted fan base is the inspiration behind 160 new emojis – called FridaMoji – available in App stores now.

Museumito — a father and son design team, designed the first Kahlo-inspired emoji last summer.  They run Cantor Fine Art and wanted to engage their Instagram audience in a fun and memorable way.  That’s how their Fine Art Emoji project came to be.  The Frida emoji was getting the most attention and the project snowballed from there.

We spoke to Museumito about the success of the FridaMoji app and what it took to make it happen.  Our candid conversation delves into the process and rabbit hole that led to an obvious crush on all things Frida.

“The art of Frida Kahlo is a ribbon about a bomb” – Andre Breton

 

Don’t mind me, I’m just going to barrage you with questions.

Why Frida Kahlo? How long did it take to bring this project to fruition? Did you experience any hang-ups along the way?

It was a long and winding path. I think it took 8 months in total with lots of hang-ups. The biggest of which was that we really did not want to do this project. Not with Frida. Not with any artist.

Larry, my dad, and I are just two art history nerds who run a fine art gallery without a ton of resources. To make emojis for someone like Frida would and should take tons of energy, and emotion, and research.

Here is a timeline of hang-ups:

We launched the fine art emoji project in July last year and it got all that attention online. The comments, emails, and phone calls just never really stopped for four months. It seemed the like the more we told people no, the more they pushed back and the more people reached out. Last week I had a meeting with someone who found the emojis for the first time last week. I wonder if it will ever stop.  After 3-4 months, and enough attention from the art history community, we decided we would entertain the idea…but we would give up a lot of control to make our lives easier and partner with a Korean company, whose name I will leave out, to distribute the emojis/stickers worldwide.

I created 25 animated Frida stickers for them, they showed them to the head of Kakao Talk, and that homie was smitten and said that this was no longer for worldwide release but exclusive only for Kakao Talk. Even though we had already signed contracts for worldwide release.  Frida is HUGE in Korea. There are like Frida stores and Frida makeup lines….

They also wanted me to cut out a bunch of references to Frida’s work and replace it with “more useable emotions.” Sooooo I was like naw. Our goal was to spread Frida’s message, not make a ton of money for a company.  So, through some legal ugliness, we yanked our images and started looking for a new partner.

When we found out that the people who make Kimoji worked in the same building as our gallery, we reached out. We were just about to dump the project but, they were like ‘no dude this is cool, and worth it’. They thought about taking it on, but like, one of the Kardashians was getting a divorce or something, and they decided it wasn’t for them and their brand. Those guys’ are really nice and smart and helped us a ton.  We were like, ‘Ok we said we would do this. Let’s just make it us. We will probably lose money on developing it, it will take a lot longer – but we have gone this far.’ I designed the apps and hired a freelancer — had a ton of learning along the way. However, it was really rewarding. Now we have the app that we own, and I didn’t have to compromise on any references that we were allowed to use from Frida Kahlo Corp.

In terms of why Frida… Frida painted around 143 paintings, 55 of those are self-portraits. Each of these self-portraits had its own emotion or style that we could reference for the emoji.

So why Frida? Because we are living in Frida Mania and there were already so many images of her iconic face expressing anguish, beauty, betrayal, love, happiness, passion, pain.

Plus people were already using this amazing FridaMoji around the world.
}:)   No joke. Fridamaniacs throw a unibrow on all their emoticons. I love it.

Frida Kahlo Emojis _The Two Fridas

I read that you spent some time in Mexico City studying up on Frida. Now that you have bonded with her self-portraits, what elements were the most important to retain when creating the corresponding emoji?

Ya. WOOF. Have you been to Mexico City? That place is amazing. Everyone is so scared of it. I loved my time there. Never felt unsafe. Ate such amazing food. I cannot wait to go back.

The process was – we researched Frida, read books, studied all of her work, and watched the movies. I spent two weeks in Mexico City visiting Casa Azul and all the museums to see as much of the work in person as possible. It really is amazing seeing the work in person. Then spent six months working with the Frida Kahlo Corporation making hundreds of emojis.

I mean before really diving deep into Frida, I knew she had a unibrow, flower crown, a pet monkey, and parrot was married to Diego and was often sad. I think for a majority of people she is a unibrow and flower and they know they are supposed to like her. When I started reading about her and her work and her life, it is impossible to not get swept up in it. She was such a remarkable figure. She was so honest and so brave. She was so beautiful and so ugly. She was so tortured and yet found bliss. She was so romantic and always heartbroken. She was so secluded and yet so popular. I just fell in love with her character and her message, in a way I never really have with another artist.

I swear you can stand in front of Los Dos Fridas for days and still not take it all in. Then some of her work is so intimate and small. So when I went to Mexico I just gobbled everything up. Just tried to take in the overall messages and jotted down notes about recurring images or themes beyond a third of paintings are self-portraits. This might sound silly but before I went to Mexico I hadn’t grasped how prevalent or important watermelon was to Frida or what the monkey actually stood for.

Then I came back to the states with a head full of ideas, and I took in every image and painting the Foundation had. Each painting has its own emotion or style or story. So I took all of Frida’s paintings and photos, and thought about what people could actually use in conversations, looked at the most used emoji worldwide, and thought about what could open people up to more of Frida’s work. The process wasn’t necessarily easy. We ended up making over 400 emoji, and only 160 made the cut. Things were cut because they didn’t truly reflect Frida or felt like they wouldn’t be a useful emoji.

So now the question will be can we open up Frida’s legacy to more people?
Can we usher Frida and everything she stood for into this very new medium?
Can she become more than just the iconic flower and a unibrow to her new young fans?

If this is a way to do that….then awesome.

Frida Kahlo Emojis

You mentioned the art history community embracing the project. Could you share a few examples of that?

I can’t track it down because it happened so long ago, but LACMA reposted all the emojis on Facebook after the Artnet article came out and it just went gangbusters. It was as if everyone had to qualify their emails to me with “and you can trust me I’m a museum director” or “and this is coming from an art history teacher.” I loved it. Got lots of emails of die hard Frida fans.  Last week I helped a preschool teacher, and we were in someone’s master’s thesis in Europe.

Projects like this are sustaining new ways of educating and engaging a new generation – what artist is next in the emoji line?

Not sure. To do this right takes a lot of time, energy, and brainpower, and maintaining it takes some work. We have definitely been flirting with other artists estates that we admire, and there is definitely interest.  So we will see. Stay tuned to our Instagram, hopefully, there will be some news soon.