Monthly Archives: May 2013

Unbelievable

00210_s_9aem39j6m0628Gasworks (A Ganzfeld Sphere), James Turrell

The Henry Moore Sculpture Studio, Dean Clough, 1993

Photo copyright Jeremy Hardman-Jones

Here’s something quite personal, and, in keeping with the mission statement of this blog, not available on the web in any way that my google-fu can ascertain. This is a James Turrell piece that fabricated and exhibited by the now defunct Henry Moore Sculpture studio at Dean Clough Mills in Halifax. The work commissioned at the Studio at Dean Clough appears to exist in mysterious lacunae in terms of the history of contemporary art in the UK. I was the Deputy Director at the Henry Moore Sculpture Trust from 1990 to 1994 under Robert Hopper; whether it was a the perceived failure of the Artranspenine project in 1998, the premature death of Robert in 1999, the change of leadership at the Henry Moore Foundation, and the closure of the studio, I cannot say. Even my existence at the organisation seems to be a matter of some dispute, since I do not turn up in any of the online literature on the Trust despite my curation of the first exhibition at the Henry More Institute in Leeds (oh, and I designed the logo too). The programme at the Halifax studio predated the glory days of Brit art and the YBA’s (though the grant programme through the Trust supported such key early ’90’s projects as Building One, Gambler, Modern Medicine and Whiteread’s House). I remember the art we commissioned in those years like the music; the end of 1988’s  ‘second summer of love‘ when Madchester mutated in Soup Dragons, EMF or The Farm; still mining the British Sculptural Tradition before the advent of Oasis, Blur and Pulp; when Radiohead was still Pablo Honey, those weird, liminal Major years, when the past had not yet become the present.

The manufacture of the fibreglass sphere in Halifax was the culmination of the project first proposed by James Turrell in 1969 with Robert Irwin and Ed Wortz for Expo 70 and at LACMA. Here’s an excellent précis by William Poundstone from Blouin Artinfo; interestingly, no mention of the first actual manifestation of the first full body Ganzfeld sphere at Dean Clough in ’93.

This version was exhibited at the ICA in 1996 and then found itself in the hands of Larry Gagosian (at least one of these works by Turrell was exhibited at Gagosian in London in 2010). Another version appears to have been constructed at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork, again in 1996. The lovely assistants you see in my image from 1993 are Jo McGonigal, not, it appears, an associate lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University (and still, I hope, an artist) and Chris Sacker, who is definitely still an artist.

A Ganzfeld (Ger. ‘entire field’) sphere is an enclosed spherical space, lit to eliminate any visual graduation or distance reference. When inside the sphere (originally proposed as table tennis balls, cut in half, and placed over each eye), the physical act of seeing is settling on an effective nothing; the eye has only a void on which to rest. Like William Hurt in Ken Russell’s Altered States, the mind potentially enters into a state where it can only start to perceive itself; past, present and future are revealed. The viewer starts to see only what the eye is not what it sees. Gazing back into the past, maybe this was only a dream?

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