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Lighting enhancement and refurbishment of James Turrell's Kielder Skyspace

James Turrell's mesmerising light-sculpture Cat Cairn: the Kielder Skyspace has been recently refurbished, to include a completely new lighting programme, as well as general restoration to preserve the work for many years to come.

An American land artist known for his unique sculptural works that take light and space as their construction materials, James Turrell (b. 1943) has created over eighty of his iconic Skyspace sculptures since the 1970s.

Nestled and partly buried on a rocky outcrop overlooking Kielder Water & Forest Park in Northumberland, near the Scottish border, Cat Cairn: the Kielder Skyspace is relatively unique in that it presents one of Turrell's early pieces in a completely open access setting. Many of Turrell's Skyspaces are now in private ownership, or have limited access governed by their owning organisation.

During the day, Turrell's Skyspace is lit naturally by a circular opening in the roof. As dusk approaches, a hidden ring of lights provide illumination within the upper part of the chamber, while the disk of sky slowly fades from bright blue to deepest black - Kielder is situated in the third largest Dark Sky Reserve in the world, and is a haven for stargazers.

Experiencing this immersive sensory artwork can have a profound and emotional effect, as Turrell's sculpture manipulates normal perceptions of light and space during its hour-long performance each evening.

“I was moved almost to tears as the colour in the space intensified as the daylight faded outside; the plug of colour going from the palest blue through every shade of blue you can imagine to the final black velvet. The new lighting played tricks on my eyes and the finale was breath taking. I honestly didn't want it to end. As Turrell intended, it is a space in this busy, light polluted world - to just go and see, quietly taking in the simple beauty.”

Visitor to Cat Cairn: the Kielder Skyspace, 2018

Cat Cairn was commissioned by Kielder Art & Architecture in 2000 and is the oldest of the five Skyspaces currently located in the UK. This project of renovations was a major enhancement to the Kielder Skyspace, including updating and enhancing the renewable energy equipment, repainting the upper chamber and producing new interpretive panels.

Lighting artist Eleanor Bell was commissioned to work with Turrell and Curator Peter Sharpe to design and install the new LED lighting system. It differs fundamentally from the original fibre optic system, delivering far more even and much brighter illumination, and varies the intensity of the lighting throughout the period of transition.

“It was a privilege to do the electrical design and installation of the new lighting system in James Turrell's Kielder Skyspace. 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.”

Lighting artist Eleanor Bell, 2018

The Henry Moore Foundation awarded £5,000 towards this refurbishment project.

Cat Cairn: the Kielder Skyspace is freely accessible to all throughout the year. It is located close to Kielder Observatory in the north-west of Northumberland, close to the Scottish border. For more information, including a list of the lighting times for the Skyspace, see kielderartandarchitecture.com.

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