Skyspace installations from American artist James Turrell are world-renowned for blending color, light and nature into experiential art. His newest work will be unveiled Saturday, June 18 at the Green Box Arts Festival in Green Mountain Falls, not far from the base of Pikes Peak.
Clad in gray stone, the windowless boxlike structure clings to a steep forested slope overlooking the small town. Good shoes are a necessity for the half-mile hike to get to it. That’s part of what’s called the Skyspace pilgrimage, according to Scott Levy, the executive director of Green Box, the arts organization that manages this installation.
“The experience starts when you arrive in Green Mountain Falls,” he said. “Then you have this journey to the Skyspace and you experience the art of the Skyspace. You have a journey that continues until you’ve left our community. All of those parts together complete the totality of the Skyspace experience.”
Visitors are asked to remove their shoes before stepping onto the glossy marble floor inside the stone cube. The curved white ceiling has a large square opening in the middle – that’s the oculus. Viewers take seats on smooth wooden benches lining the walls.
Colored light timed to the start of sunset illuminates the ceiling with shifting hues – cobalt, olive, flame orange, lilac, lemon, neon pink. Through the oculus, the color of the sky appears to change too, contrasting with the ceiling colors. The hour-long experience ends and the Skyspace pilgrims leave the silent chamber. This group of observers, there for a sneak peek, were all from Colorado Springs.
“I’m still a little speechless,” Kevin Landis said. “I don’t know quite how to encapsulate what the last hour was, but it was pretty amazing. I think just the whole concept that a simple patch of night sky can become a multifaceted work of art through your optic nerves and your brain is just kind of amazing. It’s meditative.”
“I felt like I had to remind myself that I am truly looking at the unobstructed sky,” Sam Minneti said, “because there were colors that just made you think you were In a different place.”
“Sometimes it was as if the actual sky was inside the room on a flat two-dimensional plane,” Coley Hines said.
Local project manager Jesse Stroope worked to make Turrell’s vision a reality. The 79-year-old artist has not yet been able to visit the site and declined an interview request.
“One of the things that took us weeks and weeks of extra work to do was to create this knife-edge around the oculus,” Stroope said, “and getting me to understand – and the construction crew to understand – that this knife-edge being the width of a nickel was not good enough. It needed to be finer than that of a ballpoint pen.”
They honed the metal roof to perfection. Stroope said the edge of the oculus was so sharp, the construction foreman cut his arm on it. This attention to detail was critically important to Turrell, because, without it, the oculus couldn’t create a shadow or reflect light.
That edge creates an otherworldly feeling as if you are looking through a portal into the depths of another dimension.
“I feel like I’m part of the entire universe inside of the Skyspace,” said Levy, “but it’s such a small space that’s also expansive at the same time.”
He sees unlimited possibilities for it. “Could we have concerts in there? Could we have meditation sessions? (Could we) activate the sky space, not just via James Turrell’s artwork, but using the art as the catalyst for other programming?”
Reservations are required, which will help control the number of people coming to the Skyspace.
Local business owners Ken and Melissa Nord said it will draw visitors who, “will end up in our store shopping and walking around Green Mountain Falls and enjoying the beauty and maybe even taking a hike and maybe stay a few days,” Ken said.
“This is a permanent thing,” Melissa said. “So I think it will help year-round, rather than just being a coming for the summer and then it shuts down for the rest of the year. I think our town is being discovered.”
There are more than 80 Turrell Skyspaces around the world, but the Green Mountain Falls Skyspace is one of a handful that offers a closed oculus show along with the open sunrise and sunset shows. So it will operate year-round, but the weather may affect the schedule.
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