Sculptor Ned Kahn is known for his large-scale work that magically animates using natural elements like wind and water. Kahn has just broken ground on his latest art installation in Australia: A shimmering wall that will cloak a nine-story parking garage in the domestic terminal of the Brisbane, Australia airport when it's finished in 2011.
Working with the international consultancy Urban Art Projects who manage and fabricate pieces all over the world, Kahn designed the massive screen featuring over 250,000 tiny perforated aluminum panels which are mounted on two pivots, allowing them to move freely in the wind. The entire piece is mounted onto the parking garage from behind, so it appears to float three feet from the building, like a facade-in-motion.
Although the mandate was to obscure the fact that this is indeed a garage full of cars, Kahn likes the fact that you can still catch glimpses of the car park beyond. "There's something interesting about that cloud-like, mist-like optical translucency," says Kahn. "It gives it a certain degree of honesty."
Kahn got his inspiration for the piece by spending time on the Brisbane River, a meandering channel that winds through the city's downtown. He was struck by the way that ships' masts were reflected in the water. "I liked how this human-made vertical line gets warped by the water's fluid membrane," he says. Images of those masts are actually superimposed onto the panels, adding an extra reflective pattern, but one which will only be revealed in certain light conditions. "It's like when you're flying over a landscape and you can see where a river is just by the way the light reflects on it," Kahn explains.
Besides its dramatic appearance, the installation also provides two environmental benefits. The surface of the sculpture is actually 50% permeable which allows for ventilation for the car park's fumes, yet the monolithic screen also acts as a sun shade, cooling the entire structure. Kahn also says he's also increasingly interested in creating artworks that actually generate power.
Kahn, who is nearing completion on an installation in Singapore that uses 70 miles of cable to cover four acres of a vertical surface, is known for his massive experiments with wind as well as fog, fire, water and sand. While each new work borrows somewhat from the technology of the project that came before, they each require a different configuration. "I get bored, so each one is a variation on a theme," Kahn says. Plus he always has to take the local weather conditions into consideration: Brisbane, for one, is prone to strong winds, big thunderstorms and cyclones—dangerous, yes, but also a great time to see this piece in action.