Site of the infinite
Journies into space with a homemade sky viewer
Until my mid 40s, the sky was like the backdrop to my life. It was little more than a tableau which was always above my head. It changed colour often and sometimes that resulted in my exclaiming ‘wow, look at that’. But it was merely a coloured roof to my box and, in effect, another part of the material world around me.
Then I came to be aware that, in fact, I didn’t live in a box. I realised that I was standing on the surface of a planet in the universe. There were no words to describe that feeling.
In the 1970s James Turrell started making his ‘Skyspaces’. The Skyspaces are enclosed spaces where it is possible to view the sky through an opening in the roof. I went to MOMA PS1 in New York City and saw ‘Meeting’, one of Turrell’s skyscapes.
When I experienced a Turrell Skyspace it put me in touch with the wonder of the feeling I describe above. Counter-intuitively, by reducing my view to a small square I was able to see the sky, space and ultimately infinity in a new way. The sky in it’s entirety is overwhelming and something that I find difficult to understand and see. However, by looking through the sky viewer, by seeing less, I was able to see space more intensely than I had ever seen it before.
Turrell has said that “The sky would no longer be out there, away from us, but in close contact. This plumbing of visual space through the conscious act of moving feeling out through the eyes, became analogous to a physical journey of self as a flight of the soul throughout the planes”. This was the experience that I had in New York.
These are the various types of sky viewers that i used, all made with found cardboard.
Portable Viewer – this is the most flexible viewer. For this viewer, I find any piece of card and cut out a rectangle in the middle. If I don’t have a cutting implement, I fold the card in half and tear.
Disdvantage of the portable viewer – There is a reason why a sky viewer gives a superior experience of looking at the sky. By limiting the amount of sky that can be seen through the opening, one somehow sees the smaller section more intensively. Although the portable sky viewer does focus attention on the sky seen through the view hole, other parts of the sky and the immediate surroundings can be seen in peripheral vision. I find that he experience of sky viewing is better if nothing can be seen apart from the sky through the gap.
Shoebox Viewer – The shoebox viewer involves cutting two holes at each end of the shoe box. This has two advantages. First, it allows the viewer to be used like a telescope and avoids the peripheral vision problem. Second, the first viewing hole can be widened to accommodate a camera lens, thus permitting photos of the sky to be taken.
Mediation Chamber – This requires a cardboard box large enough to accommodate the head and shoulders. I made the chamber by cutting the hole on one side of the box and placing the box on the ground hole side up. When I lie inside the box for at least 15 minutes, I experienced something very special. A blanket or coat draped down over the entrance blocked out light and permitted the maximum sky experience.
Views of Infinity