The memorial chapel of the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery in Berlin is temporarily home to James Turrell’s most recent light installation, a gradually shifting arrangement of colored lights that fills the space with a gentle glow. Every Monday and Saturday through December, the chapel will fill with light in time with the setting sun and envelope attendees in the otherworldly, immersive experience, as a series of LED lights hidden in the architecture of the chapel turn on as the sun begins to set, and change over the course of the next hours to correspond to the light outside of the space.
This 20th-century chapel was recently remodeled by architect Nedelykov Moreira, and is located in a landmarked Protestant burial ground that dates back to the 18th century. Many celebrated Berlin citizens are buried in the cemetery, including Hegel, Marcuse, and Brecht, among others. Designed with sweeping minimalist spaces and long, clean lines, and combined with this impressive cultural pedigree, the space ultimately serves as an ideal setting for Turrell’s signature explorations of space and light. This is also not the first time a house of worship has hosted one of Turrell’s installations. A lifelong Quaker, Turrell has designed numerous Meeting Houses with an opening in the roof for the contemplation of the sky. In his 2013 Greet the Light, Turrell created an open-roofed Meeting House in Philadelphia, flooding the space with blue sky and sunlight as an aid in the contemplation of a higher power.
As in his Skyspaces, the installation in Berlin revolves around the rhythm of natural light. The show begins 30 minutes before sunset, when audience members are invited to listen to an introductory lecture on the work. The LED lights transform and illuminate the space in time to the setting sun, illustrating the link between spiritual practice, natural rhythms and human understanding. The quality and density of the space changes in time with the shifting colors, treating the viewer to and all-encompassing experience that explores the relationships between time, space, and light itself, the medium that renders these changes visible. The space first fills with a deep blue, before the room begins its programmed pattern, changing color every two minutes for the next hour hour. The altar and surrounding columns are soaked in these gentle tones, accenting the space itself as the viewer is equally made aware of their own act of seeing.
The show is a fittingly subdued continuation of Turrell’s recent works, and offers something of a visual counterpoint to his recent three-museum retrospective. Scaling back his ambitions from the immense power of the Guggenheim’s Aten Reign, the show here takes on a more subdued, reflective subject, accenting a site for gentle contemplation, and turning its intimate bounds to focus on the space itself. The installation at the Dorotheenstadt Cemetery takes place on Saturdays and Mondays at sunset through the end of the year.
— A. Corrigan