Celebrating James Turrell’s ‘Night Life’


Sitting in James Turrell’s Open Sky 2004 installation at the Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima Island as part of a special sunset viewing in June 2017, I was in awe of the artist’s work. It was only my second time experiencing a Turrell. The first had been earlier that day, again at the Chichu, where I saw Afrum Pale Blue 1968 and Open Field 2000, amongst other iconic works by French impressionist Claude Monet and American sculptor Walter De Maria.

Visiting the Chichu gave me insight into Turrell’s unrivalled practice, something I’d gleaned from books, but never seen for myself. On Naoshima Island in a museum designed by esteemed Japanese architect Tadao Ando, Turrell’s command of light, space, time and, of course, pure spectacle, was on display — all the elements that would make the Gallery of Modern Art’s (GOMA) just-announced Turrell a major addition to the artist’s oeuvre.

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Fast-forward 12 months to 13 July 2018, and GOMA’s Night Life — the artist’s latest architectural light work and the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere — was launched into the public realm. A work of colour play that entrances and envelops, Night Life has found a place in the hearts and minds of countless Brisbane residents, as well as many visitors from around Australia and the world.

Plans for a Night Life monograph began to take shape around the time of the launch, and were driven by QAGOMA Director, Chris Saines, who had been fortunate to meet the artist at the site of his life’s work, Roden Crater in Northern Arizona’s Painted Desert, just a few months earlier.

Florian Holzherr outside GOMA, 2019 / Photograph: Joe Ruckli © QAGOMA

In time, discussions turned to photography. The sentiment was that if this monograph was to take its rightful place amongst the myriad of substantial publications on the artist’s life and work then German photographer and long-time Turrell collaborator Florian Holzherr was always going to be the Gallery’s first choice.

Trusted to document Turrell’s work for more than 20 years, Holzherr has photographed his Ganzfelds, Perceptual Cells and Skyspaces all over the world. So the Gallery offered Holzherr the chance to travel to a city that he’d never visited to photograph a Turrell he’d never seen. In a world where flying from one hemisphere to another was still an exciting reality (and not a longed-for fantasy), Holzherr readily accepted the Gallery’s invitation. Once Holzherr’s commission was confirmed, planning for the book, and Florian’s visit, started in earnest.

There were flights, accommodation and a contract to organise, writers to commission and winter weather forecasts to consult — there was a very low chance of rain in Brisbane in July, but we crossed our fingers until the shoot was over in any case. The project team met to discuss vantage points and shot lists, and how Night Life could be represented most effectively by different views and colour sequences.

James Turrell, United States b.1943 / Night Life 2018 / Architectural light installation / Commissioned 2017 to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art. This project has been realised with generous support from the Queensland Government; Paul, Sue and Kate Taylor; the Neilson Foundation; and the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Appeal / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © James Turrell / Photography: Florian Holzherr

Graphic Designer, Sarah Newport started working on design concepts, as well as specifications and finishes for the special editions, while she also grappled with the best way to approach the printing process in order to accurately represent Night Life’s almost fluorescent hues. Philanthropy Manager, Dominique Jones began contacting potential donors to help the Gallery fund the ambitious vision for the book.

Head of Facilities, Steve Gibson worked with other Cultural Centre staff to ensure that the grounds around GOMA were presentable for the three-days of Holzherr’s visit — that banners and bollards were removed, ground lighting was turned off, and garden renovations delayed. Design Manager, Michael O’Sullivan enlisted members of the installation team to assist with preparations inside GOMA — turning off lights, lowering window blinds, dimming exhibition signage — anything that might enhance the aesthetics of the building for the night-time shoot.

The Events team was consulted to ensure the shoot wouldn’t interfere with any scheduled events for the Gallery’s corporate clients, and vice versa, and Web Designers Clinton Wong and Thomas Renn volunteered as ‘talent’. All these preparations would eventually help Holzherr to make the most of his limited time in Brisbane. Then, in late July 2019, a small number of Gallery staff accompanied Holzherr on his three-night shoot, acting as gofers, ‘talent’, extra sets of hands to carry camera equipment, and interested observers.

As you can see in the beautiful hardcover publication, Holzherr’s visit was a wonderful success. The photographs are simply outstanding — and he took so many shots from so many different vantage points that there were probably enough images to fill a dozen books!

Night Life viewed from across the Brisbane river

Holzherr’s approach was professional and good-humoured. He was friendly and genuine, laid back, but committed, and nothing was too much trouble — even when we suggested making our way across to the other side of the river to set up his camera on the bicentennial bikeway (under the M3 motorway) to capture GOMA with Night Life-coloured shimmering water in the foreground. He also generously opened up his archive of Turrell images for the project, which enhanced the publication immeasurably.

In July 2020, on the eve of the second anniversary of Night Life’s launch, travelling is difficult, while travelling overseas is nigh on impossible, so Brisbane audiences are very fortunate to have a Turrell in their own backyard. For those audiences not so close, enjoying the pages of James Turrell: Night Life, featuring Florian Holzherr’s stunning photography, is the next best way to be inspired by Turrell’s latest creation. And we can only hope that some of these readers will be inspired enough to plan a visit to GOMA to see the work’s splendour for themselves — at some stage in a freer post-COVID future.

Rebecca Mutch is Editor, QAGOMA.

James Turrell: Night Life (hardcover, 120pp.) is available to purchase from the QAGOMA Store / Photograph: Chloë Callistemon © QAGOMA

The Gallery is extremely grateful to Liz Pidgeon and Graeme Wikman for their generous support of the publication James Turrell: Night Life.

Night Life 2018 was realised with the generous support from the Queensland Government; Paul, Sue and Kate Taylor; the Neilson Foundation and the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation Appeal.

Night Life was officially launched on Friday 13 July 2018.

Watch Night Life daily outside GOMA from Sunset to midnight (sequence runs for 88 minutes)

#JamesTurrell #QAGOMA

Moment in the sun: Painting in APT9


As QAGOMA’s flagship exhibition, the Asia Pacific Triennial is an internationally renowned event that is years in the planning and months in the making. Taking over both Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art and involving almost all staff, each APT features hundreds of works, including significant acquisitions, large-scale commissions and breathtaking installations. However, editor Rebecca Mutch also found some quiet moments to savour in APT9.

Qiu Zhijie’s soaring brush-and-ink map and Iman Raad’s eye-catching panelled mural are unmissable features. Zico Albaiquni’s paintings within paintings — with their iconic depictions of artists, artworks and taxidermied animals, their fluorescent pops of colour and irregularly shaped, multi-panel canvases — have also become firm favourites with visitors.

Qiu Zhijie

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Qiu Zhijie, China b.1969 / Map of Technological Ethics 2018 / Synthetic polymer paint / Site-specific wall painting, Gallery of Modern Art / Commissioned for APT9 / © Qiu Zhijie

Iman Raad

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Iman Raad, Iran/United States b.1979 / Days of bliss and woe (installation view, detail) 2018 / Acrylic on plywood and wood / 119 panels: 122 x 121.5 x 0.5cm (each); 308 frames: 112.5 x 3.8 x 1.9cm (each) / Commissioned for APT9 / Purchased with funds from Tim Fairfax AC through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation 2018 / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Iman Raad
Iman Raad’s Garden nights (installation view, detail) 2018 / Courtesy: Iman Raad / Photographs: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Zico Albaiquni

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Zico Albaiquni, Indonesia b.1987 / When it Shook – The Earth stood Still (After Pirous) 2018 / Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas / 120 x 200cm / Purchased 2018. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Zico Albaiquni
Installation view, GOMA / © Zico Albaiquni / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Painting in APT9

After working on the catalogue for six months prior to the exhibition opening, I find it incredibly rewarding to see these works firsthand after experiencing them for so long through galley proofs. And while the works by Qiu, Raad and Albaiquni are truly astonishing, both in their subject matter and in their execution, I have also been seduced by a number of quieter moments — artworks that offer contemplative experiences for those willing to take a little more time walking through the gallery spaces.

Kushana Bush

Kushana Bush, Aotearoa New Zealand b.1983 / Death on a Pale Horse 2018 / Gouache, metallic paint and pencil on paper / 47 x 46cm / The Taylor Family Collection. Purchased 2018 with funds from Paul, Sue and Kate Taylor through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Kushana Bush

New Zealand artist Kushana Bush draws inspiration from many different cultures and periods of art history: Mughal and Persian miniature painting, European medieval manuscripts, Japanese ukiyo-e prints and European masters. Her intricately detailed gouache paintings explore universal themes — love and hate, revenge and salvation, devotion and rejection, good and evil — and illuminate the entanglements and riddles of human behaviour. Intimate in scale, her works are, however, dramatic in content.

Acts of devotion, scenes of torture, erotic couplings and strange scenarios abound. We try to make meaning in Bush’s complex paintings by connecting seemingly unrelated motifs, signs and symbols that are inspired by our shared lives, yet the resulting narratives seem unsettling and intense, with some bordering on the traumatic. Bush’s is a world of fantasy and intrigue rendered in delicate tones with a precise and knowing eye. We are seduced by its colour palette, decorations and patterns, and fascinated by the puzzle of intertwined bodies. Ultimately, we are witness to thoroughly unnerving worlds, and we find ourselves asking: what is that figure doing to that other figure, to themselves, to that animal; what is being done to them?

Nona Garcia

Nona Garcia, The Philippines b.1978 / Untitled Pine Tree 2018 / Oil on wood veneer / 50 panels: from 30 x 35cm to 122 x 244cm (each, approx.) / Courtesy: The artist / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

With Untitled Pine Tree 2018 by Nona Garcia, we witness the ‘second life’ of a decades-old tree from mountainous Baguio City — ‘City of Pines’ — in the Philippines. Installed in GOMA’s Long Gallery, multiple oil paintings on wood veneer panels depict the branches of a felled Baguio City pine, drawing attention to the contrast between the organic and the manufactured.

The 50 paintings of branches and cones are installed to echo the reach of the tree’s crown, with the panels spanning some 18 metres. In its succession of new environments — first as specimens closely observed in the artist’s studio and then as paintings viewed in the gallery space — the tree is ‘resurrected’ after its destruction and dismemberment. As in Australia, demonstrations in Baguio City protesting the destruction of nature to make way for development may not always result in conservation action; however, Garcia’s careful and meticulous paintings in APT9 allow viewers to reflect on the grandeur of this particular tree, which once stood tall in the street where the artist lives, as well as all the others that are lost every day around the world.

Idas Losin

Idas Losin, Taiwan b.1976 / Floating 2017 / Oil on canvas / 135 x 179 x 5cm / Courtesy: Idas Losin

Sparse and dreamlike, the paintings of Taiwanese aboriginal artist Idas Losin are evocative renderings of islands and seascapes, in particular the islands of Lanyu (Orchid Island) and Jimagaod (Lesser Orchid Island), off the south-east coast of Taiwan. Her oil on canvas works depict the tatara fishing canoes of the Tao people — the tatara at rest, preparing to launch, and afloat in calm waters.

Decorated with both carved and painted emblems of the sea, ancestral beings and flying fish, the tatara, with their distinct upturned bow and stern and eyes at both ends, act as extensions of the human body and provide links between heaven and life on earth. Reflecting the significance of fishing for the Tao people, Losin’s sublime paintings — particularly Floating 2017, with its alternating brushstrokes of golden waves — embody moments of respite and stillness.

Pannaphan Yodmanee

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Beautifully capturing the interconnectedness of art, religion and history in contemporary Thai society, and masquerading as the detritus and rubble of an abandoned and demolished building, is In the aftermath 2018 by Pannaphan Yodmanee. On closer inspection, the work reveals a wealth of Buddhist icons, crumbling stupas and small, delicate paintings executed in vivid temperas, gold pigments and mineral paints. With her installation, the artist invites us into a world of decaying murals in Thai Buddhist temples — murals that are in a constant state of deterioration and restoration.

The industrial materials of Yodmanee’s densely layered installation contrast with the traditional and precise painting techniques she learnt as a child at her local temple. Rocks and stones from the artist’s hometown represent the natural world, while found objects and fragments of buildings highlight the seemingly neverending cycle of urban destruction and renewal. Yodmanee draws her subject matter from disparate sources to chronicle South- East Asian histories of migration and conflict. In an affecting nod to its commission for APT9, the work also includes a subtle frieze-like rendering of Indigenous Australians, together with iconic birds and animals.

Pannaphan Yodmanee, Thailand b.1988 / In the aftermath 2018 / Found objects, artist-made icons, plaster, resin, concrete, steel, pigment / Site-specific installation, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) / Commissioned for ‘The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (APT9) / © Pannaphan Yodmanee

Just like the ‘major moment’ artworks from APT9 that are shared, tagged and liked on thousands of social media feeds, these deeply rewarding works by Kushana Bush, Nona Garcia, Idas Losin and Pannaphan Yodmanee also deserve their moment in the sun.

Rebecca Mutch is Editor, Information and Publishing Services, and editor of the APT9 exhibition catalogue.

The author thanks QAGOMA APT9 curators Reuben Keehan, Tarun Nagesh, Ruth McDougall and Abigail Bernal for sharing their words and insights about these artworks.

Watch APT9 videos or Read about artists / Know Brisbane through the QAGOMA Collection / Delve into our Queensland Stories / Read more about Australian Art / Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube to go behind-the-scenes

APT9 has been assisted by our Founding Supporter Queensland Government and Principal Partner the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments.

Kushana Bush has been supported by Creative New Zealand.

Featured image detail: Kushana Bush, New Zealand b.1983 / In signs 2018 / Gouache, metallic paint and pencil on paper / 41 x 54cm / The Taylor Family Collection. Purchased 2018 with funds from Paul, Sue and Kate Taylor through the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Kushana Bush


David Lynch in print

David Lynch Between Two Worlds QAGOMA Publication
David Lynch: Between Two Worlds / Hardcover, 176 pages

Alongside Curator José Da Silva and Graphic Designer Sarah Ballard, working on the publication accompanying the exhibition ‘Between Two Worlds’ brought me a little closer to one of my all-time favourites from the film world, the inimitable David Lynch.

Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart are cinematic experiences I recall clearly, some 25 years after the fact. Even today, thinking about Sailor’s devotion to Lula (‘Peanut’) gives me goose bumps, while Frank’s psychosis and Dorothy’s anguish are still incredibly disturbing and affecting in equal measure. Similarly, when Twin Peaks originally screened — with sweet Donna Hayward, sultry Audrey Horne, long-suffering Shelly Johnson (I adored that Rolling Stone cover), and oddly dashing Special Agent Dale Cooper — it represented a weekly dose of ‘event’ television in the days before digital downloads and ‘binge viewing’ (not that I haven’t indulged since).

David Lynch: Between Two Worlds took six months to produce — to edit, design, crosscheck, proof, colour-check, approve, print, bind and ship — and much longer, of course, if you take into account the research and writing phases. The book represents hours of work by staff at QAGOMA and the artist’s Los Angeles studio, as well as external suppliers here in Brisbane and overseas. The end result presents over five decades of Lynch’s prodigious art practice in a beautifully-designed hardcover book, which features over 200 images of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures and moving-image works, all characterised by Lynch’s idiosyncratic and intriguing vision.

David LynchBetween Two Worlds QAGOMA Publication

As we do with any publishing project, we hope the book will be both an insightful exploration of the artist’s work, and a treasured memento for those who visit the exhibition, as well as for those who can’t. Personally, art publishing doesn’t get much more satisfying than this, and I trust ‘David Lynch: Between Two Worlds’ will be just as fulfilling for those who view the exhibition at GOMA in the coming months.

Special Agent Dale Cooper touchingly described Twin Peaks as ‘a town where a yellow light still means slow down, not speed up’. When the books are delivered from the printery and the exhibition opens, I hope I get a yellow light to slow down and enjoy it all, hopefully with a ‘damn fine cup of coffee’.


David Lynch: Between Two Worlds explores the studio practice of renowned American filmmaker and visual artist David Lynch. For nearly 50 years, Lynch’s innovative, influential and distinctive artistic output has been integral to his overall creative vision. Including over 200 images illustrating Lynch’s wide-ranging oeuvre — drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, mixed media, film and video — Between Two Worlds also features an engaging interview with the artist, conducted by exhibition curator José Da Silva, as well as new photography of Lynch by Just Loomis.


Alongside his esteemed career as a filmmaker, David Lynch has worked as a visual artist for 50 years, producing an extensive body of paintings, photography and works on paper. ‘David Lynch: Between Two Worlds’ is a rare opportunity to consider his entire creative vision and the relationships between his practice as an artist, filmmaker and musician.

Developed closely with the artist, the QAGOMA exhibition features more than 200 works organised around three ideas – ‘Man and machine’, ‘The extra-ordinary’, and ‘Psychic Aches’. Moving between the porous divide of the body and the world it inhabits, the exhibition explores the subjects of industry and organic phenomena; representations of inner conflict; and the possibility of finding a deeper reality in our experience of the everyday.