James Turrell

Posted in Texts by chrisfremantle on February 7, 2004

Extract from James Turrell’s lecture on Roden Crater at the ‘Art in the Landscape’ symposium at the Chinati Foundation.

“I suppose this is how artists think: you take a photo of it; you make plans of it. It was all pretty reasonable. I got the land. I had to buy a ranch to get the volcano. It’s hard to just buy a volcano. I made the mistake, though, of not ranching out there first, because this is open range. Arizona and Nevada are still entire states that are open range, so if you don’t want cattle on your land you’re obliged to fence them out. Even Texas has changed those rules, although there are open range areas here as well, but not the entire state. Arizona claims to be open range, as well as to not change its clocks. It doesn’t recognize daylight savings time, but that has more to do with militia-favoring political views.

I began to plan how this space at the top, in the top, would shape the sky. At the beginning, I phased it in three steps to change the shape of the rim so that it began to shape the sky. I made a plan so that I could present it to the contractors, and then they could use machinery to move the earth to shape the sky.

This is similar to breaking a few eggs to make an omelet, and it is something to take such a beautiful geologic formation as a volcano and change it. The change was not large in my mind, and there was this chewing up so it would still be a volcano and look as one, no matter whether you saw it from outside or from above. But it would then have this aspect of changing perception. That had some effect on people in terms of ecological thought. Also, the fact that I had bought this ranch and decided not to ranch or do anything with it was, to some degree, like buying a farm and letting it lie fallow, and it actually had more effect on people than I had realized it would. There is more to it than the fact that I wanted to change the volcano. The nearby volcanoes are being mined for cinder, because cinder block and cinder tracks that people run on are made from this material; this is a great building material and people have no qualms about mining it there. There are four hundred volcanoes in that volcanic field, and twelve of them are being mined actively. I see now that it was not so much that I was changing the volcano as that I was coming in and not needing to ranch as anyone else would have who bought the same land.

At any rate, I began to work on it. I had the plan of what it would take to change the sky. The problem is that sometimes you have these ideas, and it’s like having an idea to make an acoustically beautiful symphony space. Some of the worst spaces are made in the name of acoustical engineering. A lot of it is the fact that it is an art that doesn’t scale well from one situation to another; it’s something you have to inherently discover. I had an interesting way of going about that, in the sense that it was about 220,000 cubic yards before I had any way of knowing how to do this. At a dollar-fifty a yard, we were about 300,000 dollars into this and the sky hadn’t moved. Of course, the other situation is that the people form the community who were actually working on it wanted to know what it was that they were doing. After dealing with the landowner and finding that the best way is to put people aware of the truth, I said, “You know, the reason you’re moving this land, this earth, is to change the sky.” Well, they just asked if they were going to get paid on Fridays.

This is the most work that was dine to the outside of it, right here, and you can see that it did take quite a bit of changing and moving to begin to do this. I think that it is very interesting that, after the workers would work on this moving of earth, they would leave and go eighteen miles to the 2 Bar 3 Bar, which it the closest place you could get a telephone and also the closest place you could get a beer. They would go there, and they would talk to their friends about what they were doing. But after about 220,000 cubic yards, after I had changed plans on them as to what they were doing and figured out that it took something different from what I had first thought to effect this shaping of sky, they would get down off their graders and Caterpillars and come down and look – they would stand there and look at it and lie down and look at it and get back on and do more work. Pretty soon, they were bringing their friends out from the 2 Bar 3 Bar, and they would stand there and look at it and lie down and look at it, and they would get up and exchange money.

Here it is now, shaped this last winter [1994-95]. I’ve also since been convinced that we did have to ranch there, and that was because a rancher that came in had a vested interest – they seriously overgrazed our land – which, of course, everyone in the area realized was my fault. We actually had to sue and get involved and get leases back for every other state section that was leased to somebody not in the area. We’ve been ranching this land for five years now, and it has helped a considerable amount. There has been a lot more support for the project, and, in fact, there was unanimous support at the planning and zoning meetings that we had, which required that we actually zone this for art, which has been done.”

Art in the Landscape, Chinati Foundation, 2000

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  1. […] Turrell talking about needing to continue Ranching whilst making Roden […]

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