The House of Light



A Visit to the House of Light at the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale


James Turrell is an artist whose medium is light. By manipulating it through disrupting the boundaries between inside and outside, he challenges the limits of human perception. As such, his works are a sensory experience that requires viewer participation.
The outside of the House of Light
The stairs leading to the main room of the House of Light.

The House of Light, Turrell’s piece on display for the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, is no exception. From the outside, the structure he created is an impressive yet respectful take on the traditional architectural style of the region. A flight of stairs leads to the main room: a beautiful tatami mat room with creamy-white walls surrounded by a wrap-around veranda. Lying down on the mats inside, one can see that there is a perfect square cut out of the very center of the ceiling that is covered by the roof above. This section of the roof can roll back, allowing visitors to experience “outside” light inside.
The ceiling of the House of Light as it moves back
“Outside” light comes in.

As the roof slowly rolls back, one may perceive that the color of the ceiling changes as more and more of the sky is revealed until at last there is a perfect square of sky above. How this introduction of “outside” light changes the appearance of the inside space is affected by factors like time of day and weather, but also by the viewer’s own sense of perception. It’s tempting to try and record this moment with a smartphone or camera, and certainly many people do. In my case, however, the results that I got on film didn’t quite match up with what I was seeing in real time. The pictures sometimes came out darker than what I thought I was seeing. Sometimes they were lighter. Maybe if I were a better photographer or had a different camera things would have been different, but I think this experience is part of the goal of Turrell’s work. Through the use of light as the medium rather than the subject of his work, his art will be slightly different and, at least to the extent of our ability to perceive, “real” each time we experience it.
The bath tub in the House of Light
The bathroom on the first floor where “inside” light goes out.

While “outside” light comes in on the second floor, “inside” light goes out from the bathroom on the ground floor. The deep bath is made of black stone. During the daylight hours, the calm surface of the water is like a mirror, reflecting the trees and bushes outside. However, inside the bath are fiber-optic lights. Once night falls, the otherwise dark bathroom is illuminated by these lights from beneath the water, creating the appearance of “inside” light going out.
Rachael and the veranda
The veranda of the House of Light.

The inspiration for this house came from the book “In Praise of Shadows” by Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki. In this book, Tanizaki makes a claim that we are losing the “world of shadows” in our modern experience. The House of Light is Turrell’s take on manifesting this world.

The House of Light is a difficult piece to put into words at least in part because so much of the experience depends on the subjectivity of the individual viewing it. What is particularly attractive about the house, though, is that it is not only a work of art but also a place where guests can spend the night. For those who live in a city where lights burn brightly into the night, the chance to experience darkness, shadow, and starry skies may also provide insight into the things we lose the ability to see as a product of ridding ourselves of darkness with our modern lights.
Capturing the moment
Trying to capture the moment.


光の館 | Hikari no Yakata | House of Light
Artwork no.: K005
Viewing hours: 11:30am – 3:30pm
Address: Nakago Green Park (2891 Uenoko, Tokamachi-shi, Niigata)
Artwork information page

For more information about the House of Light and opportunities to spend the night, please refer to this website.


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