On my way towards the Museum of Modern Art, Salzburg, situated on the Mönchsberg Mountain, I came across an outdoor installation by James Turrel; an American contemporary artist whose work is directly influenced by his former occupation as a pilot. He has taken his fascination for the sky and clouds and created an artificial space where nature is the focus. In 2006, Turrel created “Sky Space” in collaboration with the Salzburg Art Project.
The walk-in cylindrical space measuring 9.20 x 7.20 x 8.36 meters in size, constructed of the natural rock from Mönchsberg Mountain. The space is, essentially, an empty room with built-in seating along the perimeter of the cylinder. A large window faces the entrance and an oval-shaped skylight sits in the centre of the ceiling. Artificial light is also installed in the space in order to contradict with the natural light permeating through the open space. The set-up itself “confronts the viewer with a moving visual interplay of nature, architecture, and technology.” The space is designed so that its natural surroundings are the essence of the piece itself. The interplay of natural light gives the architecture a unique feel and purpose.
While experiencing the space, the visible portion of the sky was of a cloudless soft blue. The colour complimented the whitewashed interior that was, at the time, not illuminated by artificial light. Had it been twilight or sunset, I’m sure I would have been witness to a very different experience. The viewer becomes a part of the conversation between the interplay of the continuous movement of nature, deliberately juxtaposed with the unchanging man-made structure. It becomes very clear that not a moment spent in the space is equal to any other; and Earth’s movement is what determines that.
To me, stepping into and becoming a part of this structure mimicked the idea of entering into a giant camera or viewfinder. That sensation immediately got me thinking: What is it with the continuous need for man to capture, conquer and control? As humans, we all have an innate need to control even when we aren’t aware of this impulse. The lens of a camera determines what part of the whole is shared with other viewers. In the media, what the cameraman, reporter, news station and, ultimately, the media lords tell the general populous what “is” or “is not”. In this installation, the artist has determined what portion of the sky I am permitted to see at any given moment through his stationary viewfinder. No matter how you place it, the setup is always restrictive. Someone else determines what you are able to “see”.
That is: until you decide to step outside the structure. Then, you are free to view the sky as you please, free to focus on one portion or another, to see the colours you want to see and gaze at the clouds and the stars at will. It is a choice.
The idea of a restricted view of the sky may have been a little difficult to stomach as, at the time, I had been deliberately waking up to watch the full scope of the sunrise over the mountaintops on a daily basis. So, marveling the beauty of nature through my own eyes rather than through a lens or a screen may have played a significant part in my reflections on this piece.
Let’s face it, who would want to restrict such a view? (Yes, I realize and am fully aware of the irony here while I share a captured view of what I witnessed first hand in order to show you, a third party viewer.)