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Phenomenal, Phenomenal

Now, it takes a lot to make get me walk down a 12” wide corridor as I am really claustrophobic.  Usually it’s a very dry, very strong martini. In this case, however, I did it for art (how many times have I heard that statement before?) when I went to see a show in San Diego. It was called Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface and featured artists like Bruce Nauman, James Turrell and Doug Wheeler.


This is my friend, Pauline, in the corridor. I may have rushed through a bit too quickly for the camera to pick me up.

It was not my first light installation show. I’ve followed Dan Flavin’s shows around the country. Walking down Bruce Nauman’s green light fluorescent 12’ wide corridor reminded me how profoundly the work and concepts of all the artists represented at this show have influenced my own work and continue to do so. In my monograph, I talk about how those who manipulate light.

I’ve also found inspiration in the works of Dan Flavin, Robert Irwin, and Jim Campbell—artists who have shaped my way of seeing and thinking as profoundly as any architect. Irwin, especially, reinforces my perception of light as the most powerful definer of form and space.

Along with Krauss, I see in Irwin’s light-filled work a discovery of “the sublime, he absolutely great . . .what art opens onto when it opens up onto the world as perceived under certain optical conditions.

These conditions are especially relevant in the vivid light of California, the location of much of my work. I’m always looking for opportunities to modulate the quality and character of natural light and to incorporate transparencies, through courtyards, skylights, and glazing. I’ve spent hours looking at unusual types of class – channel or dichroic. And sometimes I torment myself – how can I create a sense of depth, even in the most flat of surfaces? It makes me a bit of creative manic.

And I think that Nauman and Wheeler get my mania. Wheeler insisted on painting the walls white before putting up his pieces. Nauman challenges the normal and comfortable. Both are creating an immersive, eye-manipulative environment. There’s exuberance in this manipulation of light and space that has universal appeal because it’s not about what you see, necessarily, but how you feel. How can light transform space? Its simplicity is intimidating.

And I don’t want to draw too lofty of a comparison but all three of us, Fougeron, Nauman and Wheeler, we each see a new project as its own investigation. How can light metaphysically transforms a space—an investigation into light’s ever-changing influence on our perception of space and well-being. The well-being is for the viewer, of course, as the artist (or architect!) has tormented themselves far too much to fully appreciate their finished product.

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