Modern Art and Spirituality: Turrell

Lights On


We return, in this post, to one of Taylor’sWarhol, for he is not only very much alive but also vogue. The 2016 blockbuster Arrival, for example, draws on Turrell’s Shallow Spaces for the meeting place between the aliens and humans.

Under a Quaker Sky

Arrival’s reference to Turrell’s work is fitting considering his early work draws on the Quaker meeting houses he attended as a youth. Indeed, Turrell has often spoken of bringing the heavens closer to earth. So, recall in Arrival when the human visitors first enter the eye-shaped spacecraft they float up towards the screen of light. As gravity reconstitutes, the explorers face the light-filled screen. And, then, they wait.

Roden Crater

Light, Wait, Light

Turrell’s installations, the biggest being his awe-inspiring Rodan Crater, demands one wait in them. The playful or oozing light invites viewers to enter and tarry. Some of Turrell’s artworks provide seating. If you sit long enough your eyes adjust and you become quiet, light and a sense of meditation overpower you. Indeed, in return to the origin, one of his installations even hosted a Quaker meeting.


[1]M. Taylor C., Refiguring the Spiritual, Columbia University Press, 21/2/2012
[2]W. Stoker, Where Heaven and Earth Meet, Brill Rodopi, 1/1/2012
[3]The Quaker Meaning of Light (and James Turrell’s work)
[4]C. Adcock E.J. Turrell, James Turrell, Univ of California Press, 1990

Author Details

Calvyn du Toit

Calvyn C. du Toit is a PhD-candidate in Christian Spirituality at the University of South Africa (UNISA), and a Research Associated in the Department of Christian Dogmatics and Ethics at the University of Pretoria. He lives in New York City, where he is h(o)us(e)band to Christine, and 6PM Music Director at the Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal).

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