It was a hot bright day during the 2013 summer heatwave. I approached from below through the gardens recently planted with exotics from even hotter climes. The land was once owned by the monks of St Michael’s Mount, and the Mount shimmered on the horizon behind, at once below me and above keeping watch.
I passed through a circular seating space, an antechamber, through a narrow door into a low and dark space stoppered by light in front and behind, and opened out suddenly into bright height.
The space is an oval chamber, open to the sky. There is a bench running around the edge. I sat down. It forced me to lean back and look upwards.
I’m told there is background illumination, presumably nestling in the ledge above the seating, but the power of sun overwhelmed all human mediated light. It was at first unbearable, a space seering the eyeballs. Eventually, I put my sunglasses back on.
Initially I had seen a flattened image of blue and white. The sunglasses brought the image into three dimensions… not the 3D of a white frame superposed on blue, but the 3D of a blue lozenge mounted on the white ceiling, now decreasing to grey as the blue increased. The edge belonged to the sky instead of the opening in the ceiling. The only tell-tale of reality was a thin bright line reflecting the sun; the edge of the opening cannot be infinitely thin.
Here are the truths mediated by dark protective lenses…
The lozenge was coloured light-blue nearer the invisible sun, shading to dark-blue on the opposite side, and becoming darker as my gaze lengthened. It was a jewel, a cameo brooch, a gift.
It was a film projection, across which clouds and birds were flying.
It was a dish of liquid, through which clouds and birds were swimming.
I could stretch out my hand to touch the face of God.
The ellipse was the entire cosmos. I was being shown the universe as Julian was shown “all that is made” lying as a hazelnut in the palm of her hand.
The anti-shadow – made by the sun shining through the oval opening – was an alternative universe brighter than our own. But it was misshapen, swollen above the fault line that ran across it. It was the brightness of a Lucifer, or an Icarus that had approached too near the sun and fallen. Its lines were blurred.
One could not come close to the other.
Tewlwolow Kernow is “An underground elliptical domed chamber which James Turrell has designed as a space from which to view the sky, especially at twilight.” It is found in the Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, which opened in mid-September 2012, located in the golden mile above Penzance. Tewlwolow means half-light, i.e. twilight.