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An Experiment in Immersion at James Turrell’s “Akhob” Exhibit

By on August 16, 2013
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I enter the colorfully lit chamber without really knowing what to expect.

Ganzfeld effect? Never heard of it.

My guide leads me to the end of the second chamber and I stand as close to the edge as I can. In front of me, a seemingly endless abyss of color.

The James Turrell installation at the Crystals shopping complex in CityCenter is an experience unlike any other in Las Vegas. Known for his work with light and its interaction with space, Turrell is a world-renowned contemporary artist currently exhibiting retrospectives in major art capitals across the country, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. This spring, Turrell added a permanent installation on the Las Vegas Strip to the list.

Commissioned by Louis Vuitton, “Akhob”—meaning “pure water” in ancient Egyptian—is an immersive experience that engulfs visitors in monochromatic light. It is the artist’s largest of several ganzfeld experiments to date—the “ganzfeld effect” being a phenomenon of visual perception caused by staring at an unstructured, uniform field of color. Because of the nature of the experience, only a limited number of people can visit “Akhob” at a time and you must make an appointment.

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Eager to experience “Akhob,” I head to Crystals at CityCenter, meet my exhibit liaison and follow her into an elevator inside Louis Vuitton up to the exhibit’s dimly lit lobby. Between the lobby and the first chamber of the exhibit is an empty room with dark floors. I enter the first chamber and find myself bathed in a gentle pink light that subtly transitions into purple and then blue light. I’m told that the light show runs about 24-minutes, from start to finish, and the slow pace of the changes begins to calm me as I continue into the second chamber.

At the end of this second chamber is the void. A small slope disappears into nothingness, apart from light and fog, and there is only color when I look down, up or out in front of me. The illusion of endlessness takes hold and staring into the abyss puts me into a meditative state, disconnecting me from the world outside the chambers. I feel myself become submerged in the light and the name “Akhob” suddenly makes sense as I imagine myself deep in an ocean of color.

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When I am ready to leave, I turn around to view the chambers from a new perspective. I can see all the way past them to the empty room I entered from. It looks blue, to me. I am told that there are no colored lights in that room and that the walls are white. The blue I see is brought on by a change in my perspective after staring off into the color abyss. Leaving, the experience has me unsure about what is truly real. I exit the first chamber and enter the empty room, promptly rejoining reality, but all I can think about is how I want to return to “Akhob” again.

Jame’s Turrell’s “Akhob” | Free, limited to six viewers per appointment | By appointment only, Thur.-Mon., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. | Louis Vuitton inside Crystals at CityCenter | 702-730-3150

James Turrell’s “Akhob” photos courtesy Louis Vuitton

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