We made a trip last week to see an installation by James Turrell called the Irish Sky Garden. It at the Liss Ard Estate near Skibbereen in County Cork. It is quite hard to get any up to date and/or accurate information about the place, and it is unclear exactly what they are trying to do with it in terms of its usage, who should use it and why and how it makes money. The estate was founded by Claudia and Veith Turske, who are art dealers and collectors. They took it over in around 1990 with the aim of turning it into a public gardens with waterfalls, arboretums, hills, paths. They planted 10,000 trees in six weeks. This is a new age, hippy dream of a garden, so naturally, Turrell was an obvious choice to make something there. Three more installations were planned but since then, the estate has been taken over by art dealer Roman Stern and they seem to be on hold whilst he works out what he want’s to do with the place.
The trip to Skibbereen took a good three and a half hours, with all four residents packed into Frank and Rosie’s’ car. It felt like the journey to get there was part of the artwork. It was a pilgrimage and an effort is required from the viewer to see the piece, it won’t just present itself to you easily. When we got there, we had a good old wander around until Frank and Laurie discovered you had to go to a house on the estate and get a key into the crater. There is a high stone wall with an opening that leads you to a path. Eventually, you reach an entrance in the side of a hill. It is a long, narrow concrete corridor. At the end are high steps, three times as high as ordinary steps. At the top is a rectangular hole in which the sky is perfectly, tangibly framed. Climbing the steps brings you to the crater itself. It is oval in shape with steep grass sides. In the centre are granite stones, which, despite their coffin-like appearance, invite you to lie on them. When lying down, the crater fits perfectly in to the periphery of your vision. You are aware of its edges, but you can’t see them. The sky becomes tangible; the overcast sky is a grey, textured, moving, swirling dome. With all of Turrells works, you have to give it some time for the effect to take hold -otherwise you might as well not go to see them. The result, despite ones suspicion of its new age, hippy sincerity is profound. He has somehow managed to identify a phenomenon which is possibly universal –the size of our peripheral vision. Employing relatively simple devices, he uses the properties of natural phenomena without taking from them. He directly connects the work, the viewer and the landscape.