John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The famed arts venue's sails appear to ripple before collapsing in this new public art installation.
Imagine walking by your city's most celebrated landmark only to have it collapse like a falling curtain at your feet. Is it something I did? you might guiltily wonder.
In Sydney, at least, the blame rests with a team of artists who work exclusively in the medium of light. German collective Urbanscreen debuted its illusion in late May during Vivid Sydney, a light-and-music extravaganza going on until June 11. Their target: Jørn Utzon's modernist masterpiece, the Sydney Opera House, which always has suffered a bit in the just-sitting-there-doing-nothing department.
Urbanscreen gave the monolith weird life with a rotation of hypnotic, videomapped projections. Gigantic humans appear on the building's fractured faces. Some move around within the confines of the facades like they're trapped inside, while others climb out to disappear into the night air. The famed "sails" of the opera house – inspired by the segments of an orange, and alleged to fit together into a complete sphere – then start to shimmer and ripple in an imagined sea breeze.
The montage ends with unexpected violence as the various sections of the building suffer simultaneous structural failure. It's like David Copperfield whisked the entire venue away, although without all the expensive trickery.
This isn't Urbanscreen's first heavy performance. In 2009, the group staged a projection in Hamburg based on the dreams of houses. Then there are these morphing faces on a building in São Paulo and a merry band of parkour enthusiasts climbing up this structure in Bremen, Germany. How many car crashes has Urbanscreen's art caused? Who cares: This stuff is fantastic!
For more details on the Sydney piece, this video has the artists explaining how the "big job" came together: