John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle's "Weather Field" installation is designed to create a "microclimate" in the air.
Lots of artists want to change thoughts and opinions. Few try to change the weather.
Yet that's the task that Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle is proposing for a new public park in Santa Monica. The Chicago-based artist, a recipient of the MacArthur "genius grant," has drafted plans for a tall sculpture called "Weather Field" to stand in Santa Monica Commons, one of two yet-constructed green spaces designed by James Corner Field Operations. That company also designed the High Line in lower Manhattan, another park that is heavy on not-your-average public art.
The sculpture is a field of tall poles topped with spinning anemometers and little rudders or paddles. It looks like a forest of alien lightning poles. But it's in the concept that things get really interesting. According to the local Daily Press:
The weather instrumentation will move under the power of the sea breezes, each influencing the direction of the air like the runnels of the park itself to create a small microclimate in the air above the site.
Don't you need a permit for installing something that changes the weather? And what kind of microclimate are we talking about? Steamy? Dry? Sleety? Will there be any tornadoes involved?
In this case, there's not much of a concern. The weather-altering ability of this sculpture maxes out at making the air slightly more turbulent right around the installation. You might be able to notice it if you have extremely sensitive skin or have brought your own weather sock to test the flow. Of course, with the Butterfly Effect some might argue that "Weather Field" could be triggering volcanoes in Indonesia, but that'd be hard to pin on Manglano-Ovalle in a court of law.
Meteorology is a preoccupation of this particular artist. Other examples of his weather-work include "Climate," a piece that appears, just on first impression, to have little to do with the actual climate, and these metal prototypes for clouds.