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Justin’s Column: Ganzfeld in Los Angeles

by JUSTIN LEE

I passed under the busy network of freeways, driving by modernist buildings, more ornate art-deco buildings, cookie-cutter apartments and strip malls clad in banners of different languages. After twenty-five minutes, I reached my destination.

Slowly, I made my way towards an ethereal blue window at the end of the steps that had the serene, sacred feel of the entryway into a temple.

The window was actually an opening to a separate room. The room painted white—the ceiling, the walls, and even the floor—was silent and empty. It was a completely void space, but it pulled me in.

A soft light from the wall in front of me filled the room and washed the walls with an uninterrupted slow sequence of blues, oranges and reds. These colors emanated from a screen of light, opposite from the entrance. The sharp cornered walls at the entrance slowly began to morph into a shape that reminded me of the delicately lit screen of a MacBook: edges became curves and 90-degree angles, seamless round corners.

This is Ganzfeld by James Turrell at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

For as long as I can remember, my parents took every opportunity to expose me and my older sisters to different cultures within the boundaries of Los Angeles. They saw our connection to the arts in all forms as a way for us to gain different perspectives and ideas beyond what we experience in the everyday—school, people around us, and our family traditions.

Every week, my mom would cut out articles from The Korea Times on low-budget weekend activities. The first Saturday of every month, I would proudly wear my orange apron and create wood projects at my local Home Depot Free Kids Workshop. In the spring, it became tradition to see the California poppies and during the winter, sledding at the local mountains was our favorite pastime. We also spent our family dinners experiencing the different foods at eateries in Little Ethiopia, Chinatown and Olvera Street.

From time to time, my parents didn’t hesitate to invest in more costly events—we saw “Wicked” at the Pantages Theatre and the Bolshoi Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. They saw cultural value in such experiences that were measured by more than cost.

On the drive back from LACMA, my family talked about Ganzfeld. We each enjoyed something different about the exhibit. The blending of lights mesmerized my mom, my sister appreciated its simplicity and I was amazed by my loss of perception. So we went again. It was after the second visit when I came to the conclusion that it was the pure integration of its ingredients— simplicity, light, and nothingness—that make Ganzfeld a masterpiece.

Even now, I cannot process all that I have experienced living in L.A. as one single Angeleno culture. But I’ve realized, when looking at a larger scope, these smaller, distinct elements of its culture—food, music, buildings, communities, and languages—are what actually make it, L.A. This unique city is an environment built on relationships between these elements, even when they’re not so apparent. By witnessing cultures converge and diverge, I have gained a better understanding of the city.

Ganzfeld is a German word meaning “entire field.” Turrell’s work and Los Angeles embody this thought, piecing together their elements remarkably to show the entirety, the whole. I, too, aspire to embody the entire field, an even larger “world” that reaches beyond the city in which I was raised.

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