Floating in Space: DisEmbodied Experiences of Being Held Tightly by the Vast Emptiness in Turrell’s 'Perfectly Clear'


Embodiment, Phenomenology, Proprioception, Synesthesia, Installation Art, Ganzfeld


I stand floating in space, my eyes seeing only a vast expanse in the nothingness in which my body is suspended. Even as I feel my feet firmly planted on solid ground, a rush of strobing lights encompasses my field of vision, creating a sense of being un-stuck, a loss of physical placement that feels perfectly clear, perfectly safe, as if being held tightly by nothing at all.

In January 2018, I stepped through the entrance into James Turrell’s Perfectly Clear, an immersive art installation at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, MA. Using personal narrative and scholarly accounts, this article examines experiences disembodiment and touch within Turrell’s Perfectly Clear. Using Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s theories of the embodied subject as an active co-creator of their situated reality, Brian Massumi’s writings on visual perception and the co-functioning of the senses, and James Elkins’ theory of sight as a transactional act of metamorphosis, I examine Perfectly Clear as a form of what I describe as disembodiment-embodiment, allowing the audience-participant to experience a sense of intimate embrace that challenges commonly held preconceptions of touch, sight, and the feeling of ones’ physical body in space.

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