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(This is) Air

Meet Australia's new big thing: a 14-metre-tall inflatable sphere that breathes air is the National Gallery of Victoria's 2023 Architecture Commission.
By Sarah Ward
November 12, 2023
By Sarah Ward
November 12, 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.

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.

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