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Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's 'Solar Equation' Brings Out the Sun at Night

solar equation by rafael lozano-hemmer
As part of the 'Light in Winter' Festival in Melbourne Australia, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer has created one of his largest projects ever: a three-dimensional, animated scale model of the Sun, tethered in the sky above Federation Square, called 'Solar Equation.' Lozano-Hemmer employs a giant helium-filled balloon, approximately 47 feet in diameter (100 million times smaller than the real Sun), upon which he projects a simulation of the turbulence, flares and spots on the solar surface comprised by observatory images from NASA.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Rafael piece if it didn't involve interaction with the public. "Using an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, people may disturb the animations in real-time and select different fluid dynamic visualizations," writes Lozano-Hemmer. The five projectors used for the animation are joined with audio loops of "rumbles, crackles and bursts" also simulated from solar activity.

'Solar Equation' by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

As far as the technical achievements of the piece, Lozano-Hemmer and his engineering team had to develop a 3-D tracking system to monitor the position of the balloon, which sways and bobs in the wind. The system tracks the orientation of the balloon 30 times per second, and relays that information back to the projector's servers so that the animation can be instantaneously corrected. The five high-definition projectors, which with an output of 30,000 lumens are some of the most powerful available, are placed orthogonally around the balloon on the ground; real-time masking prevents the animation from spilling over on to the surrounding buildings.

'Solar Equation' marks the debut of Lozano-Hemmer's first public installation in Australia. The piece, which is only turned on at night, does not have a specific message or meaning. The artist says that "while pertinent environmental questions of global warming, drought, or UV radiation might arise from the contemplation of this piece, Solar Equation intends to likewise evoke romantic environments of ephemerality, mystery and paradox." Like the real Sun, the work can stand for any interpretation that the public brings, whether it's about the power of the universe, a call to use solar energy or simply a spiritual experience.


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