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Sky Ear

Sky Ear is a colourful glowing cloud of a thousand helium balloons filled with mobile phones and electromagnetic sensors. The cloud floats in the sky while visitors below call into the cloud to listen to spherics and whistlers, thereby changing the electromagnetic fields (and colours) of the cloud.

The story begins in my studio in Japan several years ago. I was wandering around trying to find good reception on my radio. I realised that this was similar to the way I wandered around trying to find good signal on my mobile phone. I started to imagine the undulating qualities of an invisible topography that surrounded me: the varying electromagnetic fields (EMF) that are present everywhere and that guided me to certain parts of the room in much the same way that traditional architectural elements do.

In Sky Ear, I wanted to give form to this space, to make visible the invisible with a 25m diameter cloud of sensors responding to EMF in the atmosphere. The cloud consists of 1000 extra-large helium balloons that each contain 6 ultra-bright LEDs (which mix to make millions of colours). The balloons can communicate with each other via infra-red; this allows them to send signals to create larger patterns across the entire Sky Ear cloud.

As visitors call into the different mobile phones in the cloud, they listen to the distant electromagnetic sounds of the sky (called whistlers and spherics, which are the audible equivalent of the Aurora Borealis). Their mobile phone calls change the local electromagnetic topography and cause disturbances in the EMF inside the cloud that alters the glow intensity and colour of that part of the balloon cloud. Feedback within the sensor network creates ripples of light reminiscent of rumbling thunder and flashes of lightning.

The cloud shows both how a natural invisible electromagnetism pervades our environment and also how our mobile phone calls and text messages delicately affect the new and existing electromagnetic fields. As an art project, Sky Ear encourages people to become creative participants in an electromagnetic performance; as an architecture project, Sky Ear makes visible our daily interactions with the invisible topographies of electromagnetic space.

Large outdoor installation, modular in nature, so it can be reduced or enlarged depending on the size of the space.
collection:2004 | date added:2004-09-08 | enter project

usman haque : about

Usman Haque has created responsive environments, interactive installations, digital interface devices and mass-participation performances. His skills include the design of both physical spaces and the software and systems that bring them to life. He has been an invited researcher at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, Italy, artist-in-residence at the International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences, Japan and has also worked in USA, UK and Malaysia. As well as directing the work of Haque Design + Research he was until 2005 a teacher in the Interactive Architecture Workshop at the Bartlett School of Architecture, London.

usman haque : awards & exhibitions

Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology; Belluard Bollwerk International festival creation award