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James Turrell on Burning Bridges, part of January's PST festival

January 18, 2012 |  4:15 pm


In his first week of teaching at the Claremont graduate school in 1971, James Turrell created a rather loud false alarm. He was planting road flares and aluminum reflectors in alcoves behind the columns of Bridges Auditorium (above) in a performance art piece in which the building appeared to have caught on fire.

“What happened is it was so effective that the fire department was called out,” he said, telling the story by phone Monday. "All of a sudden I heard the sirens approaching." He said he left Roland Reiss, the new head of the program, holding the bag; he had to rush off to join his students at another performance.

Although he is now best known for his light-based installations and earthworks — and his epic, seemingly never-ending Roden Crater installation in Arizona -- Turrell says he did many short-lived, time-based performances early on. One driving force was his interest in light, he said, describing early work at his studio on Main Street in Santa Monica (now a Starbucks) in which he blocked windows and controlled the flow of light in the rooms not just as an installation but as a performance that played out differently for different visitors at different times of day.

But he also sees his experiments in performance as part of the zeitgeist: “I think we were all interested in seeing how our ideas would extend into different types of art," he said. "They were things that made life amusing."

Click here for a preview of the Pacific Standard Time performance/public art festival, which focuses on a period in the late '60s and 1970s when Turrell and so many others made short-lived, time-based work.

Click here for a full schedule of events, including Turrell's Burning Bridges Saturday, for which the artist will be present. And, yes, this time around the fire department has been consulted -- and they have issued their permits and approvals.


Interview with Judy Chicago

Performance art festival a visual feast

Pacific Standard Time makes a bid for L.A. in Art History

-- Jori Finkel

Photo: The Mabel Shaw Bridges Music Auditorium in Claremont. Credit: Pomona College