Air Abounds

August 14, 2014

Pentalum and Outside In - the two largest installations at this year's Festival.

Photograph by Ross Costigan

Yesterday I posted about Beethoven’s arrangement of Irish airs, today we feature the two largest installations at this year's Festival, both of which are both formed by that other kind of air – the invisible gaseous one.

For six hours every day (eight on weekends), a strange bulbous structure emerges on the prim lawns in front of Kilkenny Castle. While its shiny silver and brightly coloured skin resembles a dramatically oversized plastic child’s toy, its volumes are more akin to 19th century Iranian bazaar architecture. This is Pentalum, the latest touring construction by UK-based Architects of Air who have been creating luminaria like this since 1992. It doesn’t take much persuasion to entice a crowd to a giant inflatable maze and Pentalum seems to be every bit as popular as last years Miracoco structure.

With a last glimpse of daylight and shoes left at the door, entering Pentalum is an immediate change of environment. The combination of David Bickley’s ambient soundtrack and being immersed in natural light transformed to red, blue and green creates ethereal sensations. Adults wander, enthralled, while children bound corners into dead ends and try to figure out where to next. The designer, Alan Parkinson, has used a pentagon as the template for the main structural elements, and the entire conception is a celebration of the beauty of geometry.

Eschewing any apparent geometrical forms, but equally gaseous, are Canadian artist Max Streicher’s cloud forms. Streicher has attempted to bring the Outside In to St Mary’s Hall. Unlike the looming grey forms passing over the city as I duck into St. Mary’s Hall, Streicher’s clouds are all white, and made of light materials such as paper and nylon, hand-stitched to create these seemingly arbitrary organic forms. Suspended within the nave and transept, their purity contrasts with the patchwork paint, brick and stone fabric of the building’s walls.

Like many of the events at the Festival, the venue is as much of an attraction as the programme. Before the insertion of additional floors and partitions during the 1960s conversion to a parish hall, this was St Mary’s Church, the original parish church for the castle and a central presence in Kilkenny for over 800 years. When the church was deconsecrated in the 1950s it became disused and was later offered to the OPW. Bizarrely, the OPW argued at the time that it could only take ownership of the church if the roof was removed! Instead, it was converted and partitioned, a fate at least reversible and far better than that offered by the OPW. In 2009, Kilkenny Borough Council acquired the church and began a process to transform it into a new McCullough Mulvin-designed museum for the city, conserving the historic graveyard and removing all of the later partitions within. The first phase of preparatory works have been completed and a visit to the Outside In installation is the only chance to see this historic building stripped back to its bare volume.

-Dylan Haskins