James Turrell was commissioned by the Art Centre Stroom for a site specific installation in The Hague back in 1996. I have already visited this work several times and the experience is always unique. This installation allows you to become aware of something phenomenal: the sky can be perceived as a celestial dome!
In the dunes at Kijkduin Turrell terra formed a small crater which can be entered through a tunnel. In the middle of the crater is a strangely shaped marble structure which looks like a kind of a stone used for ancient rituals and ceremonies. The observer is supposed to lie down on this structure which allows the whole body to be tilted slightly backwards. Your head and eyes are at an angle where you look back and see the rim of the crater. As you do this something remarkable happens where it seems like the sky is curved around us. On my last visit with two friends it was a beautiful sunny day. We arrived at noon which is not the best time since the sun was up high blinding you when you look up. But it still worked when you shielded your eyes from the glare. Luckily there was some cloud formation too allowing more differential depth. In its original state the rim of the dome was sharp as if it had been cut by a knife and the grass within was maintained perfectly. It seemed to look a bit more rugged and unkempt since my previous visit. There was shrubbery and bold patches in the grass. However this did not stand in the way of the experience which never ceases to amaze me.
Turrell came upon this concept by studying the work of Belgian astronomer: Dr. Marcel Minnaert called Light and Color in the Outdoors*. This book explains how different situations influence the way we perceive natural phenomena. I brought the publication that was made by Stroom when the celestial vault was revealed. Most intriguing is a copy of some pages where Turrell added his own notes and remarks. One of these noted for example is: ‘position of head is most important’ It also explains how our sense of depth changes during different weather types and different times of the day. For example the vault seems to be deeper when the sky is dark blue just after twilight. So far I have only seen the work during daytime but I aim to return and observe it at twilight. More information on the project can be found here.
*translated into English and revised by L. Seymour 1992 Springer Verlag New York ISBN 3-540-97935-2
Posted by: Tamar – NIS Amsterdam