Raemar is an installation in the series known as Shallow Space Constructions. In these, Turrell creates an architectural space, which the viewer must enter in order to experience the light phenomena. Raemar was first created in the late 1960s while Turrell had a studio in the old Mendota Hotel in Ocean Park, California. In Raemar, as in other Shallow Space Constructions, a secondary wall is constructed in front of the back wall revealing a sliver of fluorescent light. Raemar was the first piece in which the slit was extended all the way around the secondary wall, so that it appears to float in the space. By isolating light within a specific architecture, the Shallow Space Constructions play with the viewer's perception of space and seem to alter the perspective of the room. Raemar was last exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum in 1976. Turrell continues to produce Shallow Space Constructions, most recently Rise at the Mattress Factory in 2002.
Step into the Raemar and approach the glowing light. Time is an important element in viewing this work. Spend 5 to 10 minutes moving about the room: walking up to the edge of the white floor, walk to the back of the room, sit on the floor etc. Take note of how you perceive the space from different perspectives.
As yourself these questions: Describe what you see.
What do you see?
What happens after your eyes adjust to your new surroundings?
Where is the light coming from?
What color is the light? Do you see different colors?
How does this light compare with the light you see everyday?
What colors do you see reflected on the floor and on the walls?
Try sitting and standing in various parts of the space. How does your experience of the artwork change?
What happens when you stare at the light for a period of time, squint, and look to one of the side walls? What color do you see?
Describe what you feel.
James Turrell is equally interested in what you see as he is in how the light makes you feel.
Read the following quote by Turrell:
Light is a powerful substance. We have a primal connection to it. But, for something so powerful, situations for its felt presence are fragile. I form it as much as the material allows. I like to work with it so that you feel it physically, so you feel the presence of light inhabiting a space. I like the quality of feeling that is felt not only with the eyes.
What feelings does this artwork evoke in you?
How are you affected by the space?
How does entering the artwork affect your experience of it?
Think about the artwork further.
Is this a unique experience or can you compare it to something else you have seen or felt?
What metaphor(s) can you think of for this experience?
How does your experience of this artwork change as you spend more time with it?
Write a Poem about Raemar
As students are viewing the artwork, have them brainstorm a list of words. Encourage them to observe carefully, to take in the sensations of the artwork and write the first words that come to mind. Remind them not spend time composing phrases, but simply write automatically the words that pop into their heads after careful seeing. As a homework assignment, ask them to write a poem using those words and recalling the experience of being in Raemar.
The Roden Crater Room showcases James Turrell's transformation of an extinct volcanic crater into a large scale artwork. While Turrell is concerned with light and space at the crater, the scale and location of the artwork link it to the contemporary tradition of Land Art. Turrell's subtle refinements of the crater, through tunnels, passageways, and openings to the sky, capture light and explore our connection to celestial events.
James Turrell conceived of the Roden Crater project in 1972 and it has been in process ever since. The search for the site began in 1974 when Turrell, having received a Guggenheim Fellowship, flew across the western United States from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean and from Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada to Chihuahua, Mexico. After nearly a year, he located Roden Crater in the San Francisco Volcanic Range on the edge of the Painted Desert.
It took him three years to convince the cattle rancher who owned the site to sell. During that time he got to know the crater site. He spent the night there, observing the light, the landscape and the change of seasons. In 1977, with funds from the Dia Art Foundation, James Turrell negotiated the crater's purchase. He moved to the site in 1979 and began to transform the crater into a large-scale work of art.
Environmental sensitivity is important to the project and maintaining the integrity of the landscape is part of the process. In the 1980s, Turrell became a cattle rancher, himself, in order to secure a bank loan for the project but also to preserve the land. His Walking Crane ranch holds grazing rights to a 156-square-mile area around the crater, and employs sustainable grazing practices. In 1997, Turrell also helped to pass a "dark sky" ordinance in Coconino County, assuring that light from the moon, stars, and planets will remain bright in the night sky.
Major construction on the crater began in 1997, with funding from Lannan Foundation and Dia Center for the Arts. In the first phase of construction 450,000 cubic yards of earth were rearranged to reshape the crater bowl (emphasizing the celestial vaulting effect) and yet leave it looking as though no work had been done at all. In addition the first spaces within the crater were completed: the Sun and Moon Space, the 845-foot Alpha Tunnel, the East Portal, and the Eye of the Crater. The second phase of construction includes building the Fumarole Space. Other spaces, such as the North Space and the South Space are planned for the third phase of construction.
North Space Model
The North Space is a cylindrical, kiva-shaped, room with an opening to sky fitted with a lens. The room functions as a camera obscura, projecting images of the sky onto the circle of white sand at the center of the room. Cloud patterns will be visible during the day and light from the moon, stars and planets passing overhead will shine in the room at night. In an adjoining chamber, Polaris, visitors will be able to sit and look through a telescope-like stairwell toward the Pole Star.
South Space Model
The South Space functions as a naked-eye observatory, conceived based on knowledge of the celestial alignments that have informed many ancient monuments. The central, dish-shaped telescope marks the saros pattern, the relationship between the sun, moon and earth which allows observers to predict eclipses. Looking through the telescope, visitors will be able to sense the rotation of the earth by observing the changes in the location of stars and planets in the sky.
© Exploratorium - photo: Raemar © Caitlin McCaffrey