Illusion is a light sculpture on a canvas of 63 large weather balloons. The light array creates a feeling of immense undiscovered space as viewers walk and meditate throughout an area the size of a soccer field. Light effects are programmed to evoke a range of moods with soft, fading luminescence interspersed by glimmering, dancing lights.
Illusion was inspired by images of the Yipeng Lantern Festival held yearly in Thailand. The festival features a spectacle of over 200,000 floating, candle-lit lanterns that rise up to a mile into the night sky. Locals believe that as the Sky Lantern rise, it takes away their troubles and brings good luck in the future.
Illusion’s early designs specified thousands of small balloons, each containing a small strobe, floating up to 40 feet in the air to capture a modern vision of the festival. Due to the realities of the windy nature of the playa, the plan was modified, calling for a network of large weather balloons tethered to the ground. At night, the balloons come alive with light and music. Music was chosen by 4 programmers with free range on tastes. Music choices span the gamut from classical film scores to Kanye West, from Enya to Coldplay.
Illusion makes use of 45,000 watts of power. The light and musical sequences are controlled by off-the-shelf software and hardware typically used in synchronized Christmas light displays. Over 300 lbs of latex weather balloons are used, with 63 balloon pedestals made of over 1000 feet of aluminum, all connected to over 4 miles of cable.
Video by Jason Eppink
Photo by Brian Figueroa
Photo by Benson Trent
Photo by Benson Trent
Photo by Craig Fisher
Photo by Stacy Braslau-Schneck
Photo by Craig Fisher
Benson’s Afterburn Report
What an incredible experience! I’m so pleased how the project turned out. It began as a fun idea we thought we could do easily in our spare time and under budget (I’m sure we’ll all laugh about that later). It consumed our time, money, and ultimately our emotions as the project came to fruition. I need to thank our team–20 strong–each of whom brought their A-game devotion. The project was truly a team effort–it looked and performed better because of the individual input that contributed to the whole. When anyone in my team was asked, “Who’s responsible for this,” and pointed in my direction–I really wanted to point back.
We had a huge challenge with the delicate latex balloons; they don’t work in the day–UV lights cause them to become brittle. And if there’s any wind, they stretch over the pedestal and burst. And since they are so fun to touch, a few people got a face full of latex when they burst. My attitude–which I explained to many people, is that this art is a toy we made for the burners–they can break it. It was a joy to see people self-policing the balloons, to see vandalism and see the crowd shame the vandals to leave. By Monday were were all asking ourselves–why the HELL did we decide balloons were a good idea.
The project’s scale, while impressive and immersive, could have probably been scaled down by half and still provided the same experience. We would have saved on the surprising amount of extra costs.
At the last moment–we canned the platform idea–I’m all for making things simpler and cheaper. We also never activated the interactive controls. We found people would come and stay for a few minutes and leave–so we played songs constantly, with no interactive break. We wanted people to see the songs.
We received an incredible response from visitors to our art site. It was fun to watch people walk into the field and get this “wow” look on their face. We had a few invites to other venues–and at this point–I’m just decompressing, but it’s very flattering. To me, seeing it for the first time all come together on the Tuesday–it was special; it was a joy. I was smiling the whole time. We put it together in light winds on Thursday and later on Saturday–And I found myself just wanting to stay at the site and enjoy the atmosphere.
I didn’t get to do any photos or videos of the project–if anyone has videos or photos they can share, I would love to post them here.
The Music Playlist
Many people requested information on the songs we were using–here it is:
Massive Attack – Future Proof
Usher – Will Work for Love
Coldplay – Clocks
Enya – Storms in Africa II
Kanye West – Flashing Lights
Fedde le Grand – Put Your Hands Up 4 Detroit
The Music of Life Orchestra – The Swan
DeVotchKa & Mychael Danna – The Winner Is
Daft Punk – One More Time
Thomas Newman – Ellis Island
R.E.M. – New Orleans Instrumental No. 1