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JAMES TURRELL SKYSPACE

LOCATIONs: Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, Cornwall + Kielder, Northumberland
artist: james turrell

The American light artist James Turrell is renowned for his Skyspaces. With more than eighty built worldwide, Turrell seeks to provided contemplative and site-specific spaces in which to view the passing sky above. He says,

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. Following a brief from James Turrell, Eleanor Bell was approached to design and install the lighting system in the Skyspaces at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, Cornwall and Kielder Water and Forest Park, Northumberland.

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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. Concealed LED strip situated behind the tops of the seats is angled to throw light across to the opposite walls. This ensures that the entire space is evenly lit, as vertical illumination would create shadows up the walls. Digitally programmed and powered by solar panels, the lighting show lasts for about 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.

At sunset, the sky is a rich mid-blue and the walls take on a peach hue, but as the light slowly dims, the sky above darkens to midnight blue, and the walls appear cream. In the final stage, once the lights have returned to full brightness, the sky is a thick, opaque black, a stark contrast to the bright white walls. In reality, the warm white light does not change colour; it is our perception of colour that is changing.

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“Working with James 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.”

- Eleanor Bell

Photo Credits: Neil Armstrong, Eleanor Bell, Neil Denham and Peter Sharpe