Microcosm was a large scale inflatable art work installed at Tamarama Beach for Sculpture by the Sea. It was a colourful and highly patterned artistic oral reef. Approximately 17 metres long, 5 metres wide, and 4.5 metres high, it was installed onto one of the Tamarama Life Saving club kiosks on the beach.
It was designed to withstand the harsh sea side conditions, through its unique engineering and the its ability to bend and move in the wind instead of resisting, much like how coral responds to waves.
The work uses its bright and colourful forms to impart an important message about clean oceans and single use plastics. Microcosm is an artistic portrait of a small outcrop of regenerated coral the artists found off the coast on Indonesia, in an area where all other corals had been destroyed long ago. This hopeful and positive installation explodes the form to a massive scale, and the work asks the viewer to think about their own ‘small world’ and to take actions to reduce their own single use plastic consumption.
Despite the serious message, the work delighted children and adults alike.
The work has cleverly used a range of engineering and manufacturing techniques to create a work that is very light weight, yet extremely strong.
The work is based on a foundation of high rated webbing channels that distribute the load capacity throughout the work. On the base, the work has a breaking load of 2.5 tonnes, which gradually decreases as the work gets higher. As the work is an inflatable, weight was a key issue so in areas that had less exposure to stress, lighter weight webbings were used, literally creating a net inside the work.
All seams were manufactured using a custom made binding attachment that secured seams between four layers of folded nylon binding with a twin needle walking foot machine. This made all seams very strong, and very air and water resistant.
Due to the large and complex nature of the fabrication, weight and bulk became a real issue. To overcome this, the work was divided into a main vessel into which air was continuously pumped (about 2000 cubic feet per minute) and a series of about 20 detachable feature art pieces. These feature art pieces were attached into the main vessel using marine strength YKK zippers (with a breaking load of 50 newtons per 5cm). This allowed for a much higher level of complex manufacturing, but negated the difficulties of bulk and weight. It was also an unexpected boon during the last stages of sculpting as the work was highly flexible.
By day, the work created a dominating silhouette for the bay, and by night was illuminated with internal LED lighting.
Patterns were all custom designed by hand, then digitised and collaged in photoshop to create unexpectedly vivid and fun patterns from simple scribbles.
The final engineering approval for the work was to withstand winds of 75 kms per hour, with 2 tonnes of concrete bases, with a further 1/2 a tonne of water weights inside the work.
The work was the (unofficial) second place winner for The People’s Choice for Sculpture by the Sea and secured a NSW and QLD tour of regional galleries and festivals. In addition, it has become the centre piece of an activation by the artists and the Bega Valley Shire in an artistic campaign to reduce the use of single use plastic consumption in that area.