James Turrell: Irish Sky Garden
On November 17th we visited the Irish Sky Garden at Liss Ard Estate in Skibbereen, Co. Cork, one of James Turrell’s exceptional skyscapes. All of Turrell’s skyscapes comprise of an enclosed space with an opening of varying degrees in the roof allowing the sky to become a vital part of the space and experience upon entering. Opening for the first time in 1992, the Irish Sky Garden was constructed under the careful eye of Turrell, ensuring everything was completed as it was designed with nothing left to chance. The aim to make the giant crater appear as if it existed naturally and to evoke a sense of curiosity and wonder was a crucial element in his design and attention to detail.
James Turrell is an American land artist, best known for his long-running project, Roden Crater, a naked-eye observatory, in Arizona. With a focus primarily on light and space, he has gained acclaim within the art world by creating a number of captivating skyscapes and light tunnels. Referring to himself as a ‘mound builder’ he aims to bring you closer to the skies, making celestial objects like the moon and the sun appear closer and more inclusive of the spaces we inhabit.
As you enter the Sky Garden you walk through a long dark megalithic-like passage and climb a number of steep stairs, enhancing the anticipation. The crater is oval-shaped and grass-lined, with a large stone plinth placed in the centre, intended for two people to lie on and look up to the skies. The intention was for small groups to visit at a time, with two being Turrell’s ideal number. Whether you visit during the day or night, as you lie within the crater, you will find yourself captivated by the endlessly changing skies, perfectly framed by the crater’s edge in your peripheral vision.
It is surely an experience we plan to share with our summer program students during Art on the Farm and something we will recommend to residency artists or guests who plan to travel around Ireland. To experience it for yourself is one thing but to witness how others respond is also quite beautiful. Within the crater, you can find a sense of calmness and quiet, respect and peace, as your senses expand and succumb to this celestial encounter.
“The most important thing is that inside turns into outside and the other way around, in the sense that relationships between the Irish landscape and sky changes.” – James Turrell