Artists Caitlind R.C. Brown and Wayne Garrett, with some help from others, have created an interactive piece of art designed to be a stand-in for the sun during the coldest and darkest weeks of the year.
“It was designed to show how light, and in particular the sun, is a social entity that brings together all walks of life,” said Garrett in a recent interview.
Solar Flare is a giant steel ball containing a 400-watt high-pressure sodium light bulb, suspended 18 feet above the Stephen Avenue mall, between Centre Street and 1st Street S.W.
Unveiled Dec. 19, the installation was to remain until Feb. 1 on the mall, just east of The Bay.
The ball is fixed with dozens of acrylic rods that light up a golden-orange colour when the piece comes to life, at sunset.
When the streets are empty the piece is still, but when sensors on the street detect people walking by, they trigger the light to rotate, making the “sun come to life,” Brown said.
It was designed to show how light, and in particular the sun, is a social entity that brings together all walks of life – Wayne Garrett
“The sun is essential to life, and we all share an affinity for it. We attempted to display that to Calgarians and provide them with some outdoor comfort,” said Brown.
Solar Flare was introduced right before the winter solstice, during the Solar Flare Light Performance on Stephen Avenue.
More than 1,000 two-foot sparklers were lit during what Garrett called, a “winter solstice ritual summoning the sun.”
A crowd of a couple hundred people looked on as the artists introduced Solar Flare and fired it up, illuminating Stephen Avenue.
“It’s really beautiful to look at, and it does kind of give you the feeling of warmth when you look up at it,” said downtown resident Hannah Breen.
“I walk past it every night on my way home from work, and it catches my eye every time.”
Solar Flare is suspended by cables anchored to the roofs of surrounding buildings.
Many cold nights of hauling sandbags and lumber to the tops of the buildings was topped off by the final night of the installation process, when they “set the sun into the sky.”
The crew was up until 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 18, at -19 degrees, mounting and finally testing the electronics.
“It was cold and pretty strenuous work, but it was all worth it when we saw that ball floating in the sky,” said Lane Shordee, a member of the installation crew.
Brown and Garrett created their last light display, Cloud, at last year’s Nuit Blanche, a contemporary night-time art festival.
Cloud received international recognition, showing in Moscow, Chicago and Prague, as well as here.
The 18-foot interactive electrical installation, made from 6,000 incandescent light bulbs, quickly went viral after it appeared online. As a result of Cloud’s popularity, Calgary’s Downtown Association commissioned the two artists to create another light display in an attempt to enhance the vitality of the downtown core.
“We knew we wanted to do something with light, and we definitely wanted to make it interactive, like we did with Cloud,” said Brown.
Initially, the team had attempted complex and high-tech ideas, which eventually got whittled down to a basic analog, single-bulb design.
“We wanted to go big, and we wanted to impress. But the more we simplified, the more impressive and alive our artificial sun became,” he said.
The art team’s next project is to head off the Kentucky to begin designing another light installation, as well as continue to travel the world, showing off Cloud at various art displays.