Step Inside JAMES TURRELL's House of Light in Japan


Back in the year 2000, Tokyo gallery Art Front Gallery (AFG) and Japanese curator Fram Kitagawa conceived the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial to connect art and nature. Spread across 187,800 acres of communities, rice fields, vacant houses, and closed schools in Niigata, Japan, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Site, as it is now called, became the most ambitious and largest-scale art installation in the world.

One of the first and most impressive works realized for the triennial was James Turrell’s House of Light in the mountainous city of Tōkamachi. Turrell was instructed to make a “meditation house" and was given a copy of Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows by Kitagawa for inspiration.

After reading In Praise of Shadows, I decided to create a house in the traditional architectural manner of this region. I wished to realize the “world of shadows we are losing,” as Tanizaki wrote, as a space where one can experience living in light, by relating light inside to light outside.
— James Turrell
 Arrival to James Turrell’s House of Light by taxi

Arrival to James Turrell’s House of Light by taxi

 Downstairs Garden Room; one of 2 rooms with sleeping arrangements

Downstairs Garden Room; one of 2 rooms with sleeping arrangements

 Left: The open retractable roof in between light shows. Right: View from the rear of the house, looking out onto the city of Tōkamachi

Left: The open retractable roof in between light shows. Right: View from the rear of the house, looking out onto the city of Tōkamachi

Every day, just before dawn and dusk, a retractable roof opens on the traditional Japanese wooden house which was co-designed by Turrell and architect Daigo Ishii, unveiling a treat for all the senses. Colors of pink, purple, blue, green, and yellow light the interiors of the main tatami-covered communal space and cast the viewer’s gaze upwards towards the open sky. All you will likely hear is the entire body-felt sound of silence and the occasional bird flying past.

 Left: Exterior wraparound porch during the light show. Right: The closed retractable roof between light shows.

Left: Exterior wraparound porch during the light show. Right: The closed retractable roof between light shows.

This is an approach to Japanese culture from mine as a Westerner. For me as an artist who has sought for the ‘perception of light’, the House of Light was an attempt to contrast as well as to incorporate day and night, the Eastern and the Western, tradition and modern.
— James Turrell
collecteurs-house-of-light-5.jpg
 Left and Right: The evening light show in full effect

Left and Right: The evening light show in full effect

Downstairs at ground level, Turrell designed a Light Bath that can only be described as unlike anything you have ever seen before. At night, lit with a fiber-optic tube, the bath gives the illusion that one is able to touch the lights in the water. When the sliding wooden doors open in the morning’s natural light, trees appear and offer the experience of shinrin yoku or forest bathing.

 Left: Turrell’s Light Bath on the ground floor of House of Light. Right: Entryway to the Downstairs Garden Room and Light Bath

Left: Turrell’s Light Bath on the ground floor of House of Light. Right: Entryway to the Downstairs Garden Room and Light Bath

Unlike a typical work of art, the House of Light invites guests to stay year-round and experience the magic of Turrell’s masterpiece all to oneself. With accommodation for up to seven guests, wifi and a modern kitchen and bath, the house can be booked several months in advance for a once-in-a-lifetime experience amongst friends, family, or total strangers who made the spiritual trek alongside you.

 Left: The evening light show. Right: The House of Light’s Genkan, where one is to remove shoes before entering a Japanese home.

Left: The evening light show. Right: The House of Light’s Genkan, where one is to remove shoes before entering a Japanese home.


End.


Text by Collecteurs Editorial
Photography: Jessica and Evrim Oralkan

More on escapes