SUPERnatural installation brightens days at Atlanta Botanical Garden

Art installations at the Atlanta Botanical Garden put streaks of color above and giant glass flowers below. Photos: Jason Getz/Atlanta Botanical Garden
Art installations at the Atlanta Botanical Garden put streaks of color above and giant glass flowers below. Photos: Jason Getz/Atlanta Botanical Garden

Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Clouds of color above and giant glass flowers below enliven the garden

There is something in the air at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

A brightly colored river floats among the trees above the Canopy Walk, twisting and turning in the breeze like a line of weightless Chinese dragon dancers.

It is an aerial sculpture by Patrick Shearn of Los Angeles-based Poetic Kinetics, known for his large-scale works of public art.

Called “Dream Flora,” it is comprised of 78,033 nylon streamers, attached to a transparent rigging system, anchored to trees by flexible ultra-light Dyneema cords.

The streamers flicker as the web itself undulates, mimicking the motions of flocks of birds or schools of fish. The hypnotic movements are accompanied by the rustling of the streamers, a sound that brings to mind sprinkling rain or wind in the leaves.

Shearn has created similar installations in cities around the world, but Atlanta’s is the first in a woodland setting, and it posed special problems for Shearn’s group. Unlike installation in parks and downtown squares, this one could get easily tangled in nearby branches. The measurements had to be precise.

This colorful SkyNet installation is composed of thousands of nylon streamers attached to a flexible web of cords. It sways and flickers with the wind. Photos: Jason Getz/Atlanta Botanical Garden
This colorful SkyNet installation is composed of thousands of nylon streamers attached to a flexible web of cords. It sways and flickers with the wind. Photos: Jason Getz/Atlanta Botanical Garden

Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

A bigger problem was the pandemic, which made it impossible to travel to Georgia from Los Angeles to take measurements as the installation was being fabricated in 2020.

Instead, Shearn and creative producer Marnie Sehayek used an Atlanta team with a 3D video camera to record the area along the path of the installation. The art object was planned to parallel the Canopy Walk, then dive over and under the elevated pathway and detour into the Storza Woods.

With screen grabs from the video, the Kinetic Poetics team identified anchor points on trees along the path. Then an Atlanta surveying team returned to the garden with range-finding lasers to create a three-dimensional set of data points, showing the path of the artwork and a schematic of the distances to each tree.

The result is a rippling streak of pink, yellow and purple through the green woods.

As Shearn and Sehayek recently strolled along the Canopy Walk, he marveled at the old-growth forest in that section of the garden, glancing up at the 100-year-old giants around him. “I’m shocked at how tall these trees are,” he said. “First of all, Storza Woods is gorgeous,” he added.

Shearn and Sehayek were impressed by the spirit of the garden and were determined to create a project that was in keeping with the surroundings. “It’s an honor to show at a place like this, where there is so much beauty,” said Sehayek, wrapped in a puffy jacket against the morning’s chill.

“Dream Flora” might refer to the way trees dream, which is a subject that engages Shearn. Trees, he said, are rooted. “Everything around them moves. If they could dream art, what would they dream about?”

The Dream Flora installation ranges in width from five to 25 feet and is up to 40 feet off the ground in places. Photos: Jason Getz/Atlanta Botanical Garden
The Dream Flora installation ranges in width from five to 25 feet and is up to 40 feet off the ground in places. Photos: Jason Getz/Atlanta Botanical Garden

Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

They might dream something like this, he imagined. Like a “like a paintbrush moving through space.”

This flickering arc of color has a calming effect on visitors, Shearn has discovered. He said he listens to visitors and hears them saying, “I was really angry at work, I came over here, and I chilled out”

“That’s Patrick’s favorite thing,” said Sehayek. “To eavesdrop.”

Shearn isn’t listening to Sehayek, however. He’s tuned into a family strolling past on the Canopy Walk, who he engages in conversation. “What sort of creature might have a nest like this?” he asks their six-year-old son. “Do you think a dragon might have a nest like this?”

The kid seriously considers the question.

Shearn’s public art projects have been seen in cities around the world and at outdoor festivals. He’s created a giant mechanical praying mantis for Coachella and a fire temple for Burning Man.

Dream Flora will be at the garden through Sept. 19. It is part of a series of similar projects called Skynet. This was the first Skynet project designed remotely. “The whole system was innovated in the face of the pandemic,” said Sehayek.

They could use the same technique again to design a project for, say, Seoul, South Korea, from the comfort of their L.A. studio, “but I’d rather go there,” said Shearn.

Giant-sized glass flowers created by Seattle artist Jason Gamrath are part of the SUPERnatural art installation at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Photos: Jason Getz/Atlanta Botanical Garden
Giant-sized glass flowers created by Seattle artist Jason Gamrath are part of the SUPERnatural art installation at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Photos: Jason Getz/Atlanta Botanical Garden

Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to the Dream Flora the garden will also be featuring Seattle artist Jason Gamrath’s mammoth floral sculptures made of glass and steel.

About 150 pieces of Gamrath’s sculpture are on display in the garden, indoors and outdoors, through Oct. 13, including oversized aloes, orchids, pitcher plants and lotuses.

The glass flowers are both delicate and monumental; after dark, they will be lighted dramatically.

WHERE TO GO

”SUPERnatural”

An art installation at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Dream Flora through Sept. 19; Glass Art in Bloom through Oct. 13; Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Starting at $22.95; children starting at $19.95. 1345 Piedmont Ave., Atlanta. 404-876-5859, atlantabg.org

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