These days I’m living with my head in the clouds–almost literally. I am spending the month of February in Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala, a huge volcano-ringed lake so situation in the Mayan highlands that sometimes the airborne moisture gently clusters together and forms clouds around the mountain peaks just up the path from my casita. This, I learned when I first lived here in 2007, is what is known as a cloud forest–a phenomenon every bit as enchanting as the name implies.
And so I was fascinated when I heard about cummulus, a recent exhibition in Paris of gigantic crocheted clouds by the Argentine artist and architect Ciro Najle. Organized by Le Laboratoire (an experimental science/art center) and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, cummulus was the visual, three-dimensional outgrowth of Najle’s three years of work with scientists, engineers and water experts to design fog-collecting nets for the capture of fresh water in the Atacama desert region of Chile.
Kat Austen, the editor of New Scientist’s CultureLab blog, described the exhibition this way:
Lit from within and above, the swaths of crocheted white wool hang from the ceiling to just half a metre above the ground, casting familiar shadows on the gallery floor. The fluffy cashmilon wool chosen by the artist…works well for cumulus clouds–the puffy ones that can precede thunderstorms, and are precursors to the godfather of clouds, the cumulonimbus.
Though there are many types of cumulus cloud, they are all united by their fractal nature, which prompted Najle to turn to crochet to capture their complex, cauliflower-like topology. Najle says crochet is the perfect medium for representing fractal structures because its surfaces can be subdivided again and again by varying the length of neighbouring crochet lines.
A team of 30 crochet craftswomen in Buenos Aires created the individual squares that were sewn together to make the large sections of the installation. The squares were based on 1664 diagrams mathematically generated by Najle to describe the knotted intersections that gave shape to the overall structures. As someone who once went through a crocheting craze lasting several years, I can well imagine the feel of the soft cashmilon yarn being looped through 30 women’s crochet needles, the precise pattern of each square that was destined to be joined to thousands of others to form great, billowing forms.
Le Laboratoire’s interest in exploring innovative design solutions to global water issues goes beyond the Najle exhibition. Alongside Najle’s clouds Le Laboratoire showed
works under development by teams of designers and students from the 2010 ArtScience Labs international creative program. These include a novel, easy to operate, and portable water filter; materials that mimic African fog-collecting insects; and an initiative to support the sustained development of fog collection through the distribution and sale of “fog water.”
Fog water! As delicious as the idea of a cloud forest! Najle’s cummulus installation was up through January 2012 at Le Laboratoire and had previously been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado. But I need only look up to the sky on particularly moist days to be reminded of the innovative work he and other designers are doing to engage creatively with problems of water availability around the world.Video by Florent Déchard for Le Laboratoire and is embedded from YouTube.com.