Architects of Air returns to the lawn of the Long Center for Performing Arts this weekend. The art installation, an elaborate construction that resembles one of those giant inflatable castles seen at kids birthday parties, is part of a traveling exhibition created by European artists.
But this isn’t (just) kids stuff: the luminarium, the technical name for the cave-like gallery of spectral colors, is a fully immersive experience. You can walk through and explore the space age structure of Islamic ceiling-inspired domes, Archimedean monuments and Gothic cathedrals.
Sunlight enters through the structure’s sheer material to create brilliant, striking hues, a natural element that makes every trip through the luminarium a distinct experience. It’s like a highbrow bouncy house.
This year’s exhibit, called Exxopolis, spans about half a football field and stands at about the height of a three-story building. It features a network of pathways to a towering main dome, where Architects of Air artistic director Alan Parkinson has taken cues from religious temples and the work of mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose, whose titling scheme you’ve seen everywhere.
“The cupola has 10 large stained-glass windows all around that are like perpendicular-style Gothic windows,” Parkinson says. “The ceiling of the dome is rendered in an Islamic style.”
Parkinson said the stained-glass effect was achieved by layering the pieces of translucent, colored plastic. The structures, which Parkinson has been involved in building since 1985, present the constant artistic challenge of trying to implement new ideas into a limiting physical form. Inflatables, Parkinson says, are always struggling to become shapeless spheres.
“What we’re trying to do with each structure is to learn a little bit more about what we can do in terms of creating bigger volumes,” Parkinson says. “The latest experimentation is with the modulation of the surface using a mixture of reinforcement materials that don’t expand and the main body of the material that does expand.”
Exxopolis is actually rendered as an homage to Architects of Air’s first luminarium, Eggopolis, built more than 20 years ago. That structure, and every one since, has been an exercise of artistic goodwill and guesswork.
“We don’t have a lab where we can trial structures,” Parkinson continues. “Each structure is a learning experience — we’re experimenting on full scale.”
The luminarium opens to the public Saturday, January 19 and will be open through January 27 on the Long Center lawn. If it’s anything like last year’s exhibit, anticipate long lines and potentially hours of waiting. But it's worth the wait (and $10 admission fee) to experience a world of intelligent design.