Equinox, an animated sculpture by British artist Mat Collishaw, is going to be one of the stars of Expo 2020 Dubai. It has just been unveiled at the Grimshaw-designed Terra – The Sustainability Pavilion.
Equinox is a 3D moving installation more than five metres high and three metres wide that uses zoetrope technology. The centrepiece is a giant lotus flower hosting an orbit of insects; as the flower rotates on its vertical axis, its petals act as zoetrope ‘shutters’, animating the insects within as they appear to clamber, flutter, eat and pollinate in perfect harmony. The petals of the flower function as “a sacred chalice conserving insect ecology”, with their enhanced scale underscoring the cataclysm that would follow their decline.
In daylight the flower will be in a closed position with the internal character models animated through the regular aperture breaks between each petal. Under rotation the intention is that the animation will be read looking up between these openings towards the central stamens of the flower.
The petals open and close by hydraulic action, and the flower itself can also raise and lower by hydraulic action. It’s actually lowered and opened in the evening, when natural light levels are reduced to allow the work to function as a strobe zoetrope with the viewer looking down into the sculpture.
That will probably be the most impressive way to experience the work, though the daytime view will be pretty stunning too – the flower will be in a closed position with the internal character models animated through the regular aperture breaks between each petal. Under rotation, the animation will be read looking up between these openings towards the central stamens of the flower.
Using technology like this to reveal, entertain, and stimulate has proved a rich vein running through the work of Mat Collishaw, who emerged alongside Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin with the Goldsmith’s College YBA group in the late 1980s. He was initially known for sculpture, installations and photography, but in recent years has moved on to more complex technologies like mechanised birds, lidar – and the zoetrope, a pre-film animation device that produces the illusion of motion by displaying a sequence of images through slits in the side of an illuminated cylinder.
Mark Davy, Founder & CEO of Futurecity, the “cultural placemaking agency” that curated the commission, observed that Equinox comes with the power to make complex ideas accessible to everyone, “acting as a lens and catalyst for visitors to contemplate their relationship with nature in the context of living sustainably”.
The artist feels that the connection is actually a bit more direct. “My work engages with subject matter that involves an engagement with how we as humans navigate the world and the choices we make,” said Collishaw. “The sustainability theme of Terra provided a context, literally and metaphorically, for an experience that invites contemplation and reflection on the precarious nature of the earth’s ecosystem … Grimshaw’s architecture in the Inner Core [of Terra], with its circular geometry, water reservoir and skylight, frame the artwork in an exhilarating way, and I hope it inspires people to want to protect their environment.”
The entire installation is poetic commentary on the delicate calibration of the Earth’s natural ecosystem, and to accompany the work, Collishaw has selected actual poems that praise the sanctity of nature by William Blake and HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Expo 2020 Dubai opens 1 October.