This is the legend which welcomes passengers to Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Short, simple and to the point from Lennon’s classic ‘Imagine’. The sky is an important element of any landscape. Although some views appear to have more sky than others, you can be sure that everywhere has pretty much the same amount of it as anywhere else – such is the scale of it.
A few weeks ago I took my kids to the National Gallery in London to show them some of the artists I was really into when I was their age. First stop was Constable’s The Hay Wain:
I remember having prints of Constable’s paintings on my bedroom wall when I was younger. I had to drink an awful lot of Rose’s Lime Cordial to send off for the free prints – two Constables and two Stubbs. What I liked best about the Constables was the large brooding skies. It was those big building clouds that made the pictures to me at the time seem much more real – not glossy or fancy, but just like the sky out of my window.
The windows from the house where I live now are dominated by sky. Being high up on the side of a mountain we’re not overlooked by anything higher – even the distant fells are lower from the window views. Consequently I spend a lot of time looking at the sky. To the kids, the sky is where the clouds live, and there are many days when the house is in, or above the clouds, so I guess on these days we live in the sky.
Being in the clouds is a beautiful experience. The quality of the light is quite unique. The light can envelop you completely and near objects appear and recede back into the cloud in an instant. Occasionally there’s a temperature inversion and we look out to clear blue skies above us and a sea of white cloud shrouding the valley below. These days are rare but always breathtaking.
In 2009 I made my first CloudCube for a conference on the Gothic in art, literature and society. I wanted to physically evoke the aesthetic qualities of being in the clouds – the visual decay of objects as they appear and disappear in the shifting clouds, and the way the light strips away colour. The 3m cube was placed in a darkened room. The cube was made from frosted vinyl and contained the artificial cloud. On entering the cube your presence was detected by sensors which activated mono-frequency lights within a pod in the middle of the cube. The colour from the lights stripped away all other colours and enveloped the visitor in an intense red light. The intensity of the light varied with the position of the visitor. The central light threw silhouettes of the visitors onto the outside of the cube where they became part of the piece to viewers outside. For a budget installation it was very successful.
Last year I proposed a further two CloudCubes for an exhibition. One of which lowered the top surface of the cloud as in a temperature inversion (and made just the same way). The floor would be a gradual upward slope to a barriered edge. The cloud would be lit so that visitors couldn’t see below the cloud and would have to guess at the extent of the drop beyond the barrier. Disorientation. The third contained a mirror-pool and barely-there soundscape. Isolation.
I recently came across other similar cloud projects – I’m clearly not the only one experimenting with cloud experiences:
Ann Veronica Janssens uses fog and coloured light in installations which experiment with the experience of immersive colour:
Similarly, Olafur Eliasson and Ma Yansong in Beijing this year:
While those used fog with colour, the ‘Cloudscape’ installation by Transsolar and Tetsuo Kondo Architects at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennial takes a more natural approach to creating a ‘floating’ cloud that visitors can walk up into and over:
Having just managed to get a temperature inversion in a 3m cube I can only imagine just how difficult it is to suspend a cloud in a 8,000sq ft warehouse. You can see how they did it on their own blog.
At present my own ‘CloudCubes’ #2 & #3 remain un-shown but I’m now looking for a city centre gallery or two for the whole rural / urban experience exchange.