Cloud Chamber 1993

30 Jun 1993 : COFA Gallery, College of Fine Arts, UNSW, Paddington Campus, Sydney, Australia

Cloud Chamber was an attempt to create a landscape for a space transformed, made part scientific, part dream. It is also the name of a performance group formed by American performer Ron Bunzl in the early 1980’s in Amsterdam where I lived in the period 1984-85. I remember a piece they performed in which he worked with various small light beams and carried a tank on his back from which he pumped a cloud of talcum powder.

The setting held significance for me, it was the Student Gallery, a portion of what was once a basketball court gymnasium in which (in 1981) I had danced in training with Russell Dumas and the Ensemble Dance Exchange as Graduate Art Students at the then Alexander Mackie C.A.E. So this site was for me a dance space transformed. My cloud chamber was ultimately the room itself, permeated by the natural changing light and shadow through the day from the high windows. The introduction of the construction to this space was an attempt to invoke and evoke within it other, parallel, spaces. As primary material I used many tissue boxes, which I intended to be full, sealed packages. Why tissues? Perhaps because of the multiple, soft wafting layers of tissue sheets which issue from them. I imagined such a continuous wafting of tissue as metaphor for the cloud chamber. In fact I could not obtain sponsorship for full boxes of tissues, which I intended to use as bricks, but was offered unassembled flat boxes. The project thus became a race against time to reassemble and construct with the boxes in an assembly-line fashion. The theme was a dream or fairytale ruined building, precise and almost Escher-like. I also had the impulse to add eggs, a recurrent theme in some of my works: a symbol of life and spiritual/ religious expression; and flour, which referred to fairy-dust and to the snow I had seen on my visit to Russia a few months earlier.

I was working with overall thematics of packaging and containers: tissue boxes, eggs, and plastic takeaway food containers and had been influenced by Christoph Hildebrand, a German Artist in Residence at the College, who had used take-away boxes in a multi-media installation titled Pixellunch in May that year. I half-filled takeaway food containers with blue coloured water to create an entrance wall and a screen. The water-filled wall referred to the substance of clouds and the water cycle: from earth to sky and back to earth again, another recurrent theme in my work. The eggs were like something left behind, relics, hoarded, forgotten, awaiting. The work utilised the passage of natural light and long shadows cast through the day from the high windows, progressively altering the ambience of the work. The construction comprised two ruined, incomplete or partial towers conceived as square spaces. There was an interconnection between them, an alignment. Importantly the gallery had a mezzanine level affording an overview from above. The entrance to the gallery was partially blocked by the wall of one-litre take-away food boxes, each containing 500ml of blue water and the work gradually came into view as one entered the gallery via this construction. Visitors could walk all around the installation, but not inside, as there was sifted flour on the floor within the structures. In the corner of one of the constructions was a pile of 900 eggs.

I thought of the work as alchemical, and thus as based on a recipe or formula for its ingredients: 1540 unassembled tissue boxes 330 takeaway food containers 165 litres of water 75 dozen eggs 25kg flour 165ml blue food colouring

Cloud Chamber was on exhibit for just two days and was illuminated only in natural light. I was in attendance throughout and found some very appreciative visitors and interesting comments. A German student said it reminded him of the sights down the barrel of a gun and also of the bread baskets in Poland in which housewives would take their own dough to the local baker to be baked. Computer Artist Linda Dement was the only person who took off her shoes and walked in the flour, leaving permanent footprints. An intrusion I was not entirely comfortable with.

Project Details
Dates 30 Jun 1993 to 01 Jul 1993
Duration 2 days
Collaborators Richard Ratajczak : assistant
Producer Alan Schacher
Category installations
Credits Photos: Alan Schacher