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Atlanta's Newest Airport Art Celebrates Violent Storms and 'Boobs'

That's pretty much all you could ask for in an artwork, right?

Kenneth Murray

The newest work of public art to go up in the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport may look serene and dreamlike, but it was inspired by the dark, screaming furies of violent storm systems.

Oh, and "boobs." Let's not forget that.

About two years ago, the airport tapped Christopher Moulder to install a large sculpture inside the arrivals hall at the trans-Atlantic Terminal F. Moulder, an Atlanta artist who likes to fool around with the properties of light, started to design a huddle of hanging shapes that would change color according to the date and time.

It wasn't an easy project. The artist spent three months working in his West End studio crafting the immense draperies, which in the end used more than 8 miles of nickel-plated bead chain and weighed about 3,000 pounds. More than two-dozen LED lamps constantly alter its hue and saturation, giving visitors underneath the impression that they're about to get acid-rained on by a radioactive Vesuvian storm system.

And Moulder was indeed thinking about weather when he built "Mammatus," which debuted at the airport in late November. The title references a type of cloud that typically (but not always) heralds the presence of severe weather. Mammatus clouds form when moist air droops into drier air, making "upside-down" shapes that resemble mammoth mammaries. This is a photo of mammati from the National Weather Service:

Image courtesy of the NWS

In a short documentary produced by ArtsATL (see below), Moulder explains that he chose the title as a tribute to these strangely beautiful clouds, which he says look like "boobs" and are thus "boob clouds." Walking underneath it, he adds, should feel "good." I asked the artist to talk a bit more about "Mammatus"; here's the statement that an assistant sent over:

Mammatus or mammatocumulous is a type of cloud, deep pendulous bowls or breasts, as the name implies, which are indicators of tornadoes. I have only seen them once in my life, in western New Mexico. They are quintessentially apocalyptic, which I love of course. From such otherworldly, surreal formations, one would expect nothing less than a storm that erases everything in its path and can drive lumber through trunks of trees.

But the literal connection between the clouds that inspired the piece and the piece itself eventually fades. The sculpture takes on its own life, becoming less and less like clouds, and more and more like many other things. At best it becomes an uncategorizable phenomenon, difficult to grasp its real nature due to its diaphanous material, and apparently differently form at different vantage points.

If you're ever changing flights in Atlanta, head on over to Terminal F to take a gander at the artwork, which hangs like alien wasp nests from the ceiling:

The artist chilling with "Mammatus" in his studio:

Here's that ArtsATL interview:

Photos taken by Kenneth Murray and provided by the artist.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.