Friday, July 4, 2008

Sky / Space

Living on a volcano (extinct) shapes a spatial sensibility. The edge, the crater rim, forms a warped horizon, and the volumes and voids formed by the massing of the volcano are unlike those of hills made by other means. On the other side from here, inside the crater, it's steeply inclined, and the volume almost cylindrical. Yet, here, on the flanks, there's a geomorphological grace, the flowing lava's angle of repose still in evidence after ages have passed. Most beautiful is the sky, the hemisphere that forms between volcano and alps, a celestial wunderkammer, an eternal theatre of light, and darkness, the vaulting enhanced by the crater rim's proximity. The palpable craggy edge tethering the sky at the corners. The Southern Cross flies like a kite at night, rearing up above the rim it seems to soar, then pitch, like a kite diving to the earth, with its tetrad form held taut by the stars at each corner. At the other end of the sky, the Alps end, at this time of the year, Matariki appears. The signal of the Maori new year, and one of the constellations of the southern sky which is shared with the northern sky, as it is also the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. Being in the northern sky means that it was known by the earliest of astronomers, the ancients, and entwined in myth. The Southern Cross has always been hidden away in these southern skies, and so it is a "modern constellation", one of those terms which reinforce the arrogance of the northern hemisphere as self-declared categorisers of all that comes to pass. The Southern Cross has, of course, always been here, arcing its way across the night sky, like a kite, above the crater rim.

One place that has a great magnetism is James Turrell's Roden Crater, and it often comes to mind while watching the stars dance. Turrell searched for the perfect crater, flying back and forth across North America, until he found Roden. And the lengthy project of building his astronomical observatory began. In a documentary on the project his dedication to the project radiates with passion, obsession, possession. Costing him marriages, relationships, he has continued to build the observatory forms into the crater, places that will mark remarkable astronomical events, and heighten the perception of the earth's rotation. The edge of the crater has been formed into a perfect horizon, with the sky vault sitting above, like the most perfect one-to-one scale planetarium, in the middle of the Arizona desert. The effect of the crater edge on the sky is that, lying on one's back, it no longer appears that the stars are rising and setting, but that the earth is moving, rotating, through the stars. The space of the sky becomes that which the earth turns within. Other projects of Turrell's explore this threshold connection between our seeming fixity on the earth, and that which moves beyond, as in his Sky Space at Kielder in Scotland ...

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