The Lighting System in James Turrell's Aten Reign

3:01 | Published on June 21, 2013 | 450 Views

Vance Stevenson, Former Head of Media Arts at the Guggenheim, and Brenda Gray, Lighting Assistant, describe the lighting system used in James Turrell's site-specific installation for the Guggenheim, Aten Reign.

For more information, visit James Turrell.

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The Lighting System
The lighting system is from Philips Color Kinetics, which Turrell’s people have worked with quite a bit before. The whole lighting system is all controlled through a special program, which Turrell and his studio are going to put together.  
So pretty much what we’ve been doing here is that we’ve been addressing over a thousand LED fixtures, and so we’ve been setting them up tier by tier and even section of tier by section of tier. It’s the size of the ovals that are determining how many fixtures are on each. There are two full complete circles on each tier that has lighting.

Design knew where we wanted the lights, but we were limited by how far we could be from our control system. So we had to figure out, with the help of Philips, a way that we could take these controllers and get them onto the ramps, which was about 70 feet from where our lights are. We have access through one of the support columns in the museum to put the data enablers [there], which control the system. And that allows us to have all of the power connected inside of that support column, and it also allows us to run the DMX control signal from each enabler. And it’s totally contained; it’s totally invisible to the public. For every tier that we’re setting up out here in Jersey, we have to make it so the lights will only respond to a certain set of DMX control channels. We do all of that in software—you plug everything in, and you can tell each light what it’s supposed to respond to.

The lighting team has been unpacking a thousand LED fixtures, labeling them, putting them together, and hooking them up so they can be addressed. So all of the fixtures have a unit number, which has been sort of determined by its location, telling them what their name is in the program—so that you can call up the fixtures you want individually or in sections, as the case may be.

Once we have the ring set up on the truss, then we wire up all the data enablers for each ring using DMX—and that’s when we get an actual mixing board out there and can color mix and play with lights.

Turrell and Baltic told us what tier needed what DMX address, and we’re setting up all of these lights to meet their specifications. And what we need to do is, at the end of all of our construction, we’re going to hand them a cord that they’re going to plug into their special light board, and then Turrell is going to use our system to create his artwork.