Artist: James Turrell
Location: Kielder, Northumberland
Client: Kielder Forest & Water Park Development Trust
Completed: June 2018

Designed by the renowned artist James Turrell, Cat Cairn is located in the remote and wild landscape of Kielder Forest. In his series of over eighty Skyspaces worldwide, Turrell seeks to provide contemplative and site-specific spaces in which to view the passing sky above. Kielder’s Skyspace takes the form of a partially buried circular chamber with a ring of seats around the walls, a round aperture in the ceiling, and a short tunnel connecting it to the outside world.

“I make spaces that apprehend light for our perception, and in some ways gather it, or seem to hold it…my work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing.”

This is made all the more dramatic at dusk with the addition of concealed lighting. As the natural light fades, the introduction of artificial light into the space intensifies the perceived colour and opacity of the sky. When the Skyspace was originally built in 2000, fibre optic lighting was installed behind the benches. It was due for an upgrade and Turrell wanted to take advantage of the latest developments in LED technology to provide a more dynamic experience.

The brief was to design and install a lighting system in which the light levels vary throughout the performance to accentuate the viewer’s experience. Digitally programmed and powered by solar panels, the lighting comes on automatically when a viewer enters the skyspace for an hour after dusk. Starting at full brightness, the light dims right down and then gradually comes back up to full intensity. This creates an effect Turrell calls “chasing the twilight”, which extends and intensifies the experience of viewing the changing sky.

Over the course of an hour we experience the sky changing from pale blue, through to mid blue and finally to thick inky black, and the colour of the white walls shifting from peach to golden yellow to white. In reality, the light itself does not change colour; it is our perception of colour that is changing.

Working with Turrell has really enabled me to develop my own practice, helping me to better understand the importance of light and how to use it as a material in its own right.  The wild beauty of Kielder is the perfect backdrop for his work and this new lighting programme, which transforms the space with its slowly changing levels of natural and artificial light, is a mesmerising performance that I never tire of watching.

Photo Credits: Neil Denham & Peter Sharpe