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Cat Cairn: the Kielder Skyspace

James Turrell, 2000

A sculpture where internationally acclaimed US artist James Turrell manipulates our normal perceptions of light and space.

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"My work is not so much about my seeing as about your seeing. There is no one between you and your experience". James Turrell

Cat Cairn: the Kielder Skyspace is a sculptural artwork located on a rocky outcrop overlooking Kielder Water & Forest Park by internationally renowned American artist James Turrell. The artwork consists of a short tunnel that leads to a partially buried circular room, a ceiling containing a central circular oculus or opening, and a ring of seats forming the lower part of the inner wall.

In spring 2018 Kielder Skyspace underwent a major refurbishment that included replacing or updating all of the lighting and power equipment it utilises as well as repainting the upper chamber and stripping the original painted finish on the seats back to bare concrete, as originally intended.

The new lighting programme has been designed by James Turrell working closely with lighting artist Eleanor Bell and differs fundamentally from the original system. When first installed in 2000, fibre optics provided a constant level of light in the chamber throughout the daytime to nightime transition. The new LED set up delivers far more even and much brighter illumination and incorporates a digitally controlled lighting programme that varies the intensity of the lighting throughout the period of transition - about and hour in total starting at sunset each day. See table below for lighting start times.



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The nearest public parking is at the car park sited just off the C200 at the bottom of the forest road signposted to the Skyspace, and beyond to the Observatory.

Walking to the Skyspace takes around 45 minutes, by bicycle, approximately 20 minutes depending on ability. The return downhill trip is considerably quicker by bicycle. Visitors should note that the Skyspace is approximately 360 feet/110m higher than the bottom car park and while the route is not a difficult walk, the additional elevation makes the site more exposed, and it is often colder and windier up on the hill.

There are also views across Kielder Water & Forest Park from the rocky outcrop behind the Skyspace.

Visitors wishing to drive up to the sculpture will need to get a key to pass through the forestry barrier beyond the lower car park. Keys are available from Kielder visitor centres, the local shop, the Anglers Arms in Kielder village and from the Calvert Trust activity centre.

Skyspace can also be accessed by following the Lonesome Pine red grade mountainbike trail. For comprehensive listing of cycle trails within Kielder Water & Forest Park, go to things-to-do/cycling and for the singletrack trails things-to-do/mountain-biking.

OS map re. NY 613928

Cat Cairn: the Kielder Skyspace is a sculptural artwork located on a rocky outcrop overlooking Kielder Water & Forest Park by internationally renowned American artist James Turrell. Over eighty Skyspaces exist worldwide and although each is different, all share a viewing room and and an opening to the sky. Kielder Skyspace has a short tunnel leading to a partially buried circular room, a ceiling containing a central circular oculus or opening, and a ring of seats forming the lower part of the inner wall.

The main structure presents an overall feel of rugged simplicity and quiet away from the visual distractions found outside. We often experience the sky as being 'far away' because we see it disappearing behind trees, hills or houses. The Skyspace removes these clues and when seen from inside, the sky is often perceived to be right on top of the space, or sometimes intruding into it.

Visitors will find themselves in a space where the artist manipulates our normal perceptions of light and space. In daylight hours, this chamber; illuminated only by natural light through the roof opening, is a rugged contemplative space that presents the ever-changing sky as a moving picture for visitor's enjoyment and meditation. As the light conditions change at dusk, a ring of hidden lights illuminate the upper part of the chamber providing visitors with an extremely unusual display of tone and colour lasting for just over an hour.

James Turrell is interested in the psychology of perception, essentially how our brains work to make sense of the world around us and 'invent' a reality to fit the information that our senses provide. In the Skyspace, a visitor's experience of colour becomes particularly challenged and the sky viewed from within the space often appears very different from the same sky seen outside. However, visitors are reminded that this is by its very nature an individual experience, and no two people will 'see' the same thing.

A 10 minute walk up the forestry road beyond the Skyspace is the site of the Kielder Observatory where visitors can walk around its decks in the daytime or attend astronomical events in the evening.

Lighting times at the Skyspace change throughout the year as the days lengthen towards the summer solstice in June and shorten towards the winter solstice in December. The following table gives a good idea of the best times to visit the Skyspace in the evening at different times of the year. The lighting programme runs for just over an hour every day, always starting at sunset.

In summer months there is usually still light in the sky when the lighting programme finishes. In winter however, although sunset is much earlier in the day twilight is also much shorter, so visitors might wish to bring a torch to assist their journey back down to the car park near the C200.

Please note, you are advised to arrive at least 10 minutes before the programme is due to start. When the system is activated the tunnel lights will be on. A PIR sensor in the entrance recognises that a visitor has entered the space and triggers the main lighting.

The programme starts with the lighting starting low, then swiftly turning up to 75% and then to maximum, which clearly delineates the start of the show. After holding for 3 minutes, it dims down to 50%, holds, and rises again to 75%. During this time, the light levels continue to fall outside producing a range of different visual efects as the intensity of the light inside and outside the space continuously move in and out of balance.

The interior lighting finally rises rapidly to maximum again, by which time the sky will appear an inky black when seen through the oculus.

After pausing at maximum for 3 minutes, the lighting drops rapidly to 40%, holds for 5 minutes and then drops to 0% over a further 2 minutes, allowing visitors to leave the space in their own time.

The full programme lasts for 65 minutes.


date sunset time  
Jan-04 3 52  
Jan-11 4 06  
Jan-18 4 19  
Jan-25 3 33  
Feb-01 4 47  
Feb-08 5 02  
Feb-15 5 17  
Feb-22 5 32  
Mar-01 5 46  
Mar-08 6 00  
Mar-15 6 14  
Mar-22 6 29  
Mar-29 7 42  
Apr-05 7 56  
Apr-12 8 10  
Apr-19 8 23  
Apr-26 8 37  
May-03 8 51  
May-10 9 04  
May-17 9 17  
May-24 9 28  
May-31 9 39  
Jun-07 9 47  
Jun-14 9 52  
Jun-21 9 55  
Jun-28 9 55  
Jul-05 9 52  
Jul-12 9 45  
Jul-19 9 36  
Jul-26 9 25  
Aug-02 9 12  
Aug-09 8 58  
Aug-16 8 42  
Aug-23 8 26  
Aug-30 8 08  
Sep-06 7 50  
Sep-13 7 32  
Sep-20 7 14  
Sep-27 6 56  
Oct-04 6 38  
Oct-11 6 21  
Oct-18 6 04  
Oct-25 5 47  
Nov-01 4 32  
Nov-08 4 18  
Nov-15 4 06  
Nov-22 3 55  
Nov-29 3 47  
Dec-06 3 42  
Dec-13 3 40  
Dec-21 3 42  
Dec-28 3 47