House of Light

Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to experience a number of James Turrell’s skyspaces, 82 variants of which have been created worldwide. A Skyspace is an enclosed room inside which you can view the sky through an aperture in the roof that acts as a frame.

Photo from Echigo-Tsumari Art Field

Commissioned for the first Echigo-Tsumari Art Field Triennial in the mountainous city of Tōkamachi, the House of Light (2000) is a unique skyspace within a traditional Japanese wooden building which small groups can book to stay overnight. I was lucky enough to visit with some friends in late June.

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

The house is raised off the ground on stilts to protect it from the deep snow during the winter. The central communal space is covered by tatami mats which guests can sit or lie on to watch the sky through a square portal which can be opened to the sky by means of a retractable sliding roof (weather permitting).

Twice a day, just before dawn and dusk, the roof opens and the interior ceiling is lit in vivid primary colours, altering your perception of the sky above. It’s a mesmerising sensory treat that the photos don’t really do justice to. I was left with a feeling of quiet awe and appreciation.

Lying in a circle staring upwards at bright colours being projected around an aperture in the ceiling, one could be forgiven for thinking that you’d joined a cult or were taking part in some sort of religious devotion. Perhaps this isn’t so far from the truth given Turrell has been a lifelong Quaker.

Photo from Echigo-Tsumari Art Field

On the ground floor, Turrell designed a “light bath” lit by fibreoptic tubes that illuminate the surface of the water. It’s all very sci-fi and I was strangely reminded of Nicolas Winding Refn’s psychological horror film The Neon Demon (2016).

In the morning, we relaxed watching the clouds floating across the sky with the occasional bird making a flypast.

Looking out towards the city of Tōkamachi from the wraparound porch
Rainbow over Tōkamachi

Staying in the House of Light is a unique opportunity to experience the work of a master up close and was well worth it in my opinion. In order to protect the interior, if it’s raining, you have to keep the roof closed but we were lucky this time.

David avatar

2 responses

  1. Mike avatar

    Looks stunning!

    1. Cheers Mike, it really is!


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