It took eleven combined art handlers, fibre optic specialists, a Swedish technician and renowned US artist Julianne Swartz two weeks to install Blue Sky with Rainbow, AGWA’s mammoth new permanent installation. The work, a blending of cutting edge solar fiber optics, physics and contemporary art, has been in the making for 2 years. It is the result of extensive cross continental correspondence and technological developments across Perth, New York and Sweden. AGWA caught up with Project Manager Giovanni Di Dio, who worked closely with artist Julianne Swartz to deliver the project.
What was the highlight?
The highlight for me was working directly with Julianne and being exposed to her working methods. Julianne was fantastic at working from two different viewpoints and zoning in on key details at the right times, considering the near 100 metre expanse of the installation.
There is a rigorous academic underpinning to her work that belies what seems quite subtle, graceful and simple. Working with and learning from artists of Julianne’s calibre is a huge perk of my job and as a practicing artist myself, there is no better education.
What is the work comprised of?
Blue Sky with Rainbow is made up of a Parans SP4 Solar Receiver – a product never before used in Australia – perched on the highest point of the Gallery roof. Four x 100m fiber optic cables were twinned together and hand fed through several sets of 13 metre lengths of custom made Spiratex PVC tubing. This tubing was coloured to reflect Perth’s famously bright blue sky.
Fiber optic cables contain incredibly thin, fragile strands of glass that can break if twisted or forced past their maximum bend radius. Thankfully everything went to plan and the teams I assembled carried out their work to script.
The cables within the tubing were supported with prefabricated metal fixtures, referred to as “elbows” and “sleeves”. These were fitted in reverse order and held in place by custom coloured hooks in three sizes.
There were precursory works, too. I had ladders and rails fabricated and installed, as well as a fabricated galvanised bracket to ensure the PS4 withstand the high wind factors. There were mock cable run throughs with string lines and Skype calls to ascertain the position of the wall cavity.
Initial consultations with structural engineers and key AGWA staff gave me the green light to enable drilling and fixing into the travertine clad Gallery columns, along the underside of our fibreglass composite bulkheads, our masonry walls and blockwork. The balancing act was dealing with the infrastructure in a sympathetic way, keeping the understandably curious public (and staff) safe from large machinery and the inevitable moving feast of feeding sets of deceptively fragile cable through, up, under and around our internal architecture.
The end point of the display is the “Rainbow Cavity” in the Upper Concourse. There, the cables feed into a ‘prism box’ developed by Julianne and US Physicist Markus Greiner (Harvard University). This prism transfers the powerful solar beam into a splayed nascent rainbow across an acetate screen. All of the harmful UV rays are filtered out, so you witness the purest form of direct sunlight available.
The beauty of the work for me is that it is perpetually changing and seems to pulse at different times of the day. The works existence relies on the passage of time. Passing clouds and even passing birds can directly impact the work!
Can you tell us more about the solar technology?
The technology is cutting edge. Swedish technician Kalle (Karl) Nilsson spent four days in Perth fitting and programming the Parans SP4 solar receiver to the roof. It took another few days of telephone calls to Parans to iron out minor issues.
The artwork is fully operational and is guaranteed to not miss a beat. The receiver powers down and reorientates itself accordingly each sunset, and then wakes up and commences tracking the sun every morning.
The technology is extremely adaptable, as the scope the receiver has for additional add on panels and cables, could easily service the lighting needs of a 10 storey building in a commercial application. The way Julianne has harvested the technology to provide such a gentle yet striking work, in my opinion, will reward visitors at AGWA for many years to come.
Julianne was absolutely thrilled with the end result and was quite astonished by the intensity and nuances the work offered up.