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Unlike pictorial art that replicates visual experience through mimetic illusion, James Turrell’s light works—one cannot call these shimmering events objects or even images—give form to perception. Through sophisticated yet spare arrangements of natural light, artificial light, and built environments, his installations encourage a heightened sensory awareness and a state of self-reflexivity in which viewers can “see themselves seeing,” as the artist puts it.
In 1976 Turrell designed Iltar, one of earliest examples of the works he calls Space Division Constructions, along with five other works that together compose the Prado group (named after a set of Single Wall Projections that share a similar shape). Like all Space Division Constructions, these installations feature a bifurcated room; visitors peer into what the artist calls a “sensing space” through a large opening in the partition wall. This aperture bears a knife-sharp edge, and the light fixtures that flank it create blushes of electrical light in the viewing space. Turrell has compared the effect of these lights on the viewer to that of standing on a theatrical stage: under spotlights the audience disappears into an inky void, but outside the light a performer can see again. In the Space Division Constructions, this state of partial blindness contributes to the impression that the opening is actually a solid plane of color on the wall. Unlike some later works, Iltar features light sources only in the viewing space; the work’s gray-green tone is thus produced solely by ambient, reflected light controlled by the size and proportion of the aperture.
Nat Trotman and Nancy Spector