Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent
Cloudscape – an interactive light architecture installation – was a key feature in the Vivid Sydney Festival 2012 (25 May-11 June). Designed as a destination, a beacon, and a place to meet, the installation was a collaborative effort between Nicolas Thioulouse and Kim Nguyen Ngoc of Woods Bagot, and Michael Day, Frank Maguire, Victoria Bolton, Kristine Deray, with Woods Bagot, sponsored by Built, One Steel, Traxon e-cue, Inlite, Elan Construct, Enstruct, UTS.
Situated at the Sydney Harbour, the installation is a grid covered with hundreds of inflatable silver mylar balloons. The designers explain that during the day, the balloons move with the wind and reflect the weather, transformed at night into an illuminated horizon and canopy. A pro bono installation (at the cost of 30, 000 dollars, not including lights), Cloudscapes was a gift from Woods Bagot and the sponsors, intended to provoke curiosity and interaction amongst the visitors.
Cloudscape is an interesting term as it means that people ‘act’ as clouds ‘casting’ their shadows onto and over the silver balloons that constitute the light installation. They do so through interacting with the installation and with each other. A visitor’s testimonial captures the experience: “The best moment was when we saw people holding hands and forming a small chain under the installation to activate the lights. Then they were moving into a bigger and longer chain, about 30 people, kids and adults, it was a fantastic moment. Strangers holding hands and watching the clouds and the lights. A real moment of collective art.”
The main thing was that it got strangers to interact with each other and hold hands for the briefest time. Cloudscape builds upon Alf (Artificial Light Form) – light installation for Vivid Sydney 2011, designed by Kim Nguyen Ngoc, Victoria Bolton, Catherine Kuok, and Guy Hanson of Woodhead architects, along with Steven Brims of Umow Lai, Osram, Waterman, Philips Dynalite and Powersense. Alf was based on an interest in biodiversity and nature-city interactions, which ‘led to the design of the artificial biomorphic entity that glows when people interact with it and sleeps with a subdued blue pulse when it is solitary’. The provocations for Cloudscape are similar yet different.
Thioulouse highlights the innate and primal desires of a human being, as he notes: “As children we look for anthromorphic forms in the clouds; making sense of the universe by relating to our sense of self”. Similarly, Ngoc calls upon ‘our primal fears and fascination with clouds and thunderstorms’, which underpins the generation of ‘storm of light effects’ by the energy of people. The installation then is a response to these ‘archaic’ human desires.
However, Cloudscape is also a response to the manner in which identities and desires are construed in current times. As the contemporary person is a product of networked and connected thoughts, ideas, and people, Cloudscape fittingly evokes the metaphor of social media, as the direct and indirect alignments between people generate the energy to power the light effects. Ngoc says: “It creates the conditions for new and forgotten types of relationships between people, a sense of communion with climatic elements, by using electronic, photonic, and spatial constructions.” In doing so, Cloudscapes combines the natural, with the technological and the human – a symbol of our hybrid existence. This is what makes the installation meaningful, and not yet another light installation that is merely visually delightful, static, distant, and non-corporeal.