The Architects of Air’s “Pentalum”
‘Sky, sky!’, shouts Rascal, head upturned. His hands are raised, reaching towards the glowing light above him, as if expecting be transported away to another world. His awestruck face is bathed in eerie blue, eyes wide in wonder at what he sees. He spins and laughs, breaking his gaze to see what else is around him. ‘More sky!” he exclaims and totters off down a tunnel that splits ahead. Pulsating green light emanates from the right, pulsating red light spills ominously from the left. Rascal barely hesitates and swerves straight into blood-red gloom as I accelerate to keep up with him. His skin is washed out, his clothes pixelated like an old computer game. As he moves his features sharpen and blur in the gritty light. His ghostly figure flickers ahead, sliding between dark figures. He pauses to explore an alcove, still gesticulating. His mouth is moving, but his shouts are lost in the whoosh of air rushing along the tunnels. No, it’s not a crazy nightmare I’m describing – it’s the luminarium in Kilkenny Castle last weekend.
The experience is one of many constructed by ‘The Architects of Air’. This one is called Pentalum. It’s described as being a walk-in inflatable sculpture that uses light and colour to create a beautiful world inside. It was one of the events in the Kilkenny Arts festival over the last couple of weeks. An acquaintance had recommended it, so we decided to take a day trip to Kilkenny last Saturday and see what it was all about. Rascal is a fan of both sculptures and lights. There was a very good chance that he’d be interested in taking a wander about, despite being super cranky and tired from the double whammy of painful molars and nasty colds in the last week. So we found ourselves packing up the car early on Saturday morning and starting the 1.5 hour road trip to Kilkenny as Rascal dozed in the back seat.
It’s an easy run to Kilkenny from Dublin (though not the most direct route due to inconveniently placed mountains). We arrived just before the lunch rush hour and easily found parking in the centrally-located Ormonde Street car park. We decided to get some lunch first and went to find the Vintage Tea Room, which was very highly recommended on trip advisor. It’s a small, old-fashioned place with lunches and pastries and teas of all types. We had some lunch and scones which were all enjoyable though pricey. Having filled up our stomachs we were ready to head for the castle. There was a stand set up just outside that was selling tickets for Pentalum. Adults 5 euros, and under 2’s were free. A very reasonable price.
Our timing was good, so we didn’t have long to wait before our turn. Outside, passers-by were trying to figure out what this strange plastic object was. Most guessed it was some bizarre bouncy castle. “No”, I told some old ladies. “It’s a kind of light and sculpture experience”. Oh they said, and started backing away, unimpressed. “It’s supposed to be really good!”, I quickly added. But they were already distancing themselves from this new-fangled monstrosity. Not very open to new things then, I guess. Well, we were excited to see what was inside, even if they weren’t. We discarded buggy, shoes and bags outside the ‘airlock’ and all walked in hand-in-hand. And it literally was an airlock. A little entry bubble where the outer and inner doors were never unzipped at the same time. We were briefly cautioned not to let our offspring run riot on the delicate material, then we were free to wander in and explore for 15-20 minutes.
It’s hard to explain the experience. Outside it does look like a giant plastic bouncy castle with coloured turrets and stripes. Inside there’s the strange artificial winds moving about the modules, and patches of coloured light beckoning in the distant gloom of tunnels that branch out in all directions. Little bubble alcoves pop out of the tunnel sides offering personal spaces where you’ll find various entrants sitting, lying, sprawling, absorbing their surroundings. Small groups cluster to sit and have a chat, or quietly take in the atmosphere. Despite the barrage of noise and riot of colour, one feels strangely serene amongst it all when not on the move. Not so the children gleefully bouncing off the tunnel sides as they race to explore the next big bright space. I don’t know that I’d describe it as a sculpture experience. It was more about atmosphere and light to me, although each larger dome does have different patterns and shapes. Whatever you want to call it, it’s all very unique and interesting for the adults. It’s plain strange and fun for the kids.
Rascal loved it. All the different ‘skies’, the slippery surfaces to stumble along. The large colourful open spaces, the small nooks and crannies. The people appearing and then vanishing out of view. He encouraged everyone he saw to look at the sky and wonder with him. Most smiled, and did. The billowing gusts of air, the gloomy darkness, the bright glowing colours. It was all so surreal. The figures with jerky movements and blurred features observing all angles were strange to see. Our child was like a pale ghost flitting about energetically in the odd light. We really enjoyed it, although it was less peaceful when trying to keep up with a bouncing toddler who was constantly on the move to see what was around the next bend.
After twenty minutes we all felt like we’d had the full experience and came back out the airlock to reality where the crowds were arriving and the queue to enter was snaking back towards the castle. It was a cool exhibition, and one that really appeals to all age groups (except, perhaps, little old ladies). If they’re back again with another display next year, then we’re likely to go. We took a bit of a stroll around the castle grounds and along the river afterwards. It’s a lovely area to walk about, and Kilkenny itself has nice typical Irish streets to wander through and see the shops, cafes and buskers. We stopped off for tea and some delicious apple tart in Crotty’s Coffee House before strapping an exhausted, but happy, Rascal into the car where he slept the entire way back home. No doubt dreaming of technicolour tunnels and wondrous sights.