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Meet Australia's New Big Thing: A 14-Metre-Tall Inflatable Sphere That Breathes Air Has Popped Up in Melbourne

Developed by Nic Brunsdon with ENESS, '(This is) Air' is NGV’s 2023 Architecture Commission, inhaling and exhaling in the NGV Garden until June.
By Sarah Ward
November 23, 2023
By Sarah Ward
November 23, 2023

Is it a balloon? Is it a giant beach ball? No, it's (This is) Air, the National Gallery of Victoria's 2023 Architecture Commission. Thanks to the St Kilda Road arts institution's annual commitment to livening up its garden by celebrating design, a towering sphere is making Melbourne home until June 2024. This isn't just any old 14-metre-tall globe: as everyone can see while in its presence, it breathes, inhaling and exhaling to draw attention to air.

When the NGV International hosts this yearly architecture commission, almost anything can grace the venue's grounds. In the past, that's meant a colourful mini Parthenon, a bright pink pool to wade through, a bamboo garden with its own deck and a pink carwash, all memorable. Among a series of pieces all literally designed to stand out, (This is) Air might just have them beat. A lofty sphere that expands with air, then releases it — doing so all day from Thursday, November 23 — isn't easily forgotten.

One of (This is) Air's aims: to make the invisible substance that's there in its name visible. Australian architect Nic Brunsdon has joined forces with ENESS — the art and technology company behind public artworks such as Sky Castle, Airship Orchestra, Cupid's Koi Garden, Lost Dogs' Disco and more — on the work that promised to make quite the sight when it was announced back in July, and proves the case now that it has been installed.

No one in the vicinity will be able to miss it, either, thanks to that 14-metre height when it's fully inflated. To get to that measurement, it uses air as a building material. And when it breathes out, it does so by releasing gusts, forming different cloud-like shapes, then filling back to capacity again.

Brunsdon and ENESS also want everyone taking in (This is) Air to think about humanity's need for and relationship to air. While you're peering at the commission, you'll see air in action and notice how essential it is. Also highlighted: how dependent we all are upon the element, how finite it is and how its quality is being impacted.

"The idea for this project was conceived by the architect during the global pandemic, when the air we breathed was suddenly at the forefront of everyone's mind. Taking the form of a giant inflatable sphere, this living structure inhales and exhales before our eyes, giving presence to that omnipresent yet invisible element that connects us all," said Ewan McEoin, the NGV's Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, Design and Architecture.

"Air can be understood as part of our global economic, social and ecological realities. And yet, the quality of air we breathe varies depending on where and how we live. Air is universal, yet clean air is not."

As (This is) Air gets viewers pondering, it's also designed to be uplifting. As is always the case with the NGV's yearly commission, it'll provide a place for accompanying performances and other public programs in the NGV Garden, too.

(This is) Air also forms part of this year's NGV Triennial exhibition, which will display from Sunday, December 3, 2023–Sunday, April 7, 2024. On the agenda: robot dogs, a room-sized ode to plants, Yoko Ono's work and more, with 75 works set to feature, including more than 25 world-premiere projects. The art showcase will respond to the themes magic, matter and memory, with (This is) Air fitting in with the matter strand.

(This is) Air displays at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne from Sunday, December 3, 2023–June 2024 — head to the NGV website for further details.

Images: Installation view of the 2023 NGV Architecture Commission: (This Is) Air designed by architect Nic Brunsdon in collaboration with ENESS. (This Is) Air is on display from 23 November 2023 until June 2024 at NGV International, Melbourne. Photo: Ben Hosking

Published on November 23, 2023 by Sarah Ward
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