Written by: Brendan Brehm Friday, May 27th, 2011 .
You remember the song “99 Luftballons” right? Or maybe the English version “99 Red Balloons”? Well, if you tuned out the 80s, maybe these red balloons will pique your interest. Inside the Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées in Paris, a massive balloon-like sculpture has taken over. The occasion for this sculpture is the annual art happening, MONUMENTA, sponsored by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. This year, the ministry invited the Indian-born British artist, Anish Kapoor, to transform the 13,500 square-meter Grand Palais Nave into an “artistic encounter” of gigantic proportions. Through June 23, 2011 visitors to the Grand Palais can walk into and explore the depths of Kapoor’s “Leviathan.”
When an art installation is this big, it becomes much more than an object you can just stand there and gaze at; you literally have to step inside of the work and experience it on its own terms. The “Leviathan” is comprised of four bulbous PVC chambers with a height of 35-meters. Three of the balloons extend from a central chamber where visitors congregate after they have entered the Grand Palais. Kapoor labored over the precise color and thickness of the PVC to create a very specific experience within the chamber. His greatest challenge was working with the immense amount of light that pours in through the glass ceiling of the Grand Palais. However, after intensive design and labor, in collaboration with teams from England, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic, and a week long install, Kapoor succeeded in realizing his sculpture that he hopes will shake up visitor’s perception of the space around them.
The interior of the “Leviathan” is an atmospheric sanctuary where the imagination and unconscious are encouraged to roam free. Kapoor selected the red membrane specifically for this effect: “It is a single object, a single shape, a single colour. The dense red reminds us of the colours we see in our eyes at night -unstable and monochrome – red creates much more sombre shadows, psychologically and physically, than black or blue.” The space inside the sculpture is saturated with the luminous red that Kapoor associates with closed eyes. In effect, the sculpture closes our eyes for us and ushers us into a world outside of our day-to-day mode of perception.
Visitors will be just as shocked, if not more, once they exit the sculpture and see it in relation to the Grand Palais. Dark purple, shiny, and imposing, the exterior of the sculpture is a considerable contrast to the soft glow inside. But this is part of the design: a reminder that two very different realities can exist at the same time.
The reason we decided to share this project with you in the entertainment design industry is the way it sculpts the visitor’s experience. We find it very easy to get caught up in all the exciting technological advances happening right now in experience design. A project like this is a reminder of the tremendous effect a carefully designed space can have on people without the aid light shows, video screens, or any other sort of high-tech stimulation.
And just so the early reference to “99 Luftballons” doesn’t seem totally irrelevant, there is one important similarity between that song and this project that should be noted: they are both works of protest. Kapoor dedicated his sculpture to the Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, who was arrested in Beijing a over month ago and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. In support of the missing artist, Kapoor has called upon galleries and museums around the world to close for one day.