Sam Jackson

Drake, Turrell, and a Volcano

Pop art

I'll admit it, until "Hotline Bling" came out, I had no idea who James Turrell was.

In case you missed it, Drake released "Hotline Bling" as a single in July 2015, and the music video quickly became hugely popular online. Time even called the video the "meme of the year".

Drake in "Hotline Bling"

Astute observers couldn't help but notice that the visuals in "Hotline Bling" were extremely similar to noted artist James Turrell's work, perhaps most notably his LACMA installation, "Breathing Light". According to a Rolling Stone profile, this isn't a coincidence -- in the piece the author accompanied Drake to "Breathing Light" where Drake pranced around taking selfies and was later quoted as saying "I fuck with Turrell. He was a big influence on the visuals for my last tour." Turrell notably replied in an incredibly titled blog post, What I Time To Be Alive: "While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake fucks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the Hotline Bling video."

One of Turrell's installations

After visiting the LACMA myself recently, I understand Drake's exuberance. Being inside the installation is both incredibly cool and incredibly disorienting. Your visual senses are reduced fuzzy chromatics that shift on an imperceptible timeline, and you can say goodbye to depth perception. I spent most of my time walking back and forth across the exhibit with my hands up like blinders, trying to see if I could tell how far away I was from the wall in front of me (spoiler: I couldn't and ran into it more than once).

With my interest significantly piqued, I too decided to fuck with Turrell (though in my case "fuck with" means "casually research" rather than "appropriate in an enormously successful music video"). This fucking with led me to Roden Crater, which is probably the closest thing in the art world to a Bond villain's remote headquarters.

Roden Crater, presumably pictured from MI6 satellite

It seems that in 1979, Turrell somehow convinced Arizona and some wealthy patrons to let him to commandeer Roden Crater, a miles-wide dormant volcano, so that he could transform it into a hive of large scale installations. Since then, he has completed over 20 separate installations, the majority of which focus on experiencing celestial timelines, in particular solstice events (I'm a little unclear on the details, but imagine they go something like this).

Unfortunately, the installation is closed to the public at the moment, and the last time it was open it cost $6,500. While this price tag included dinner and a hotel room, it seems a little pricey. But to be fair, I can't imagine SPECTRE charging any less to tour their volcano lair either. Until the prices come down a bit, or the volcano is liberated in the latest Bond reboot, you'll have to fuck with Turrell at the Guggenheim in New York, LACMA, or at one of his smaller installations. Additionally, you can check out this comprehensive overview of his work with this beautiful book:

Regardless of what you think of "Hotline Bling" or Drake, you've got to hand it to him for doing something outside the box with his video, and I'm thankful to have been introduced to Turrell as a result.

If you can see Turrell's work in person, I highly recommend it, and if you happen to make your way into the volcano, please tell us about it!
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