Kerry Harker

The creator of Between Stillness and Storm explores the idea of weather as a metaphor for our wellbeing

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When we think of memorable examples such as romantic poet William Wordsworth’s most famous line “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, it’s clear that as a nation we English have a rich heritage of linking the weather with our state of mind. But it doesn’t stop there – there are plentiful examples in global folklore, literature and popular culture. Think of Bill Withers’ emotive lyric “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone” for another. Between Stillness and Storm, an art-science installation by Aidan Moesby and Tim Shaw, produced by me, aims to build on this by creatively repurposing weather-sensing equipment such as weather balloons, anemometers and solar panels to provoke audio and visual responses as metaphors for our inner wellbeing.

Within the installation, a small anemometer harvests the breeze, using its varying speed and strength to trigger the playing of analogue bells arranged on a makeshift “tree”. The stronger the breeze, the more regular and melodic the bells; the slower it blows, the more sporadic and melancholy they sound. Elsewhere, small solar panels translate sunlight into a series of constant beeps and signals, emitted via homemade synthesizers. Each sound is different. Some bring to mind the happy chirping of a cricket; others are higher pitched and might signal distress.

Occasionally, under extreme duress from the sun or wind, the balloons simply explode

Around the installation, beautiful latex weather balloons, in shades of white and flesh tones, are filled with helium. They hover above, blowing with the wind and bobbing and rising in response to variations in air temperature and moisture. Are they a metaphor for the fragility of human happiness? External pressures govern their behaviour and, occasionally, under extreme duress from the sun or wind they simply explode.

After dark, it’s all change. A device records 12 hours of daylight at each site, replaying variations in its brightness through LED lights installed within each balloon. During the night, they become ghostly spectres haunting the installation or look like multiple moons with subtly mottled surfaces. To one side, a flip-dot unit, of the kind once commonly used for information displays, plays continual but random selections from a library of weather-related quotes similar to the ones above. To the other, a series of umbrellas encourages visitors to draw nearer. Once beneath, the sound of field recordings such as gushing water can be heard through a small speaker. The whole installation operates off grid, powered primarily by the weather.

Following a successful first outing at Bluedot in Cheshire, where the work was located in the Galaxy Garden with the famous Lovell telescope as a backdrop, it tours to Underneath the Stars (21-23 July), Cloudspotting (20-30 July), Just So (18-20 Aug) and Head for the Hills (15-17 Sept). Visitors can expect something different at each venue, as the installation continues to develop and respond to each unique setting, provoking contemplation and wonder among young and old alike, wherever it goes.

Between Stillness and Storm is a co-commission supported by the Northern Festivals Network (funded by Arts Council England) and Unlimited Impact (funded by Spirit of 2012). Photo: Aiden Moesby.

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