What if you could control what you saw when you looked up at the night sky? What if you were the only person who could see what was before you? That idea isn’t anywhere near as far-fetched as it seems for Cathedral Square visitors, thanks to one of the precinct’s new pieces of public art. In his work, A Starry Night At Point Zero, artist Sohan Ariel Hayes projects Milky Way constellations onto the surface of a huge black granite reflective pool, and gives viewers the chance to decide what they see, with interactive bioluminescent creatures that rise to the pool’s surface when someone comes near. No two experiences of the pool could be the same – but Sohan tells us that consistent in every experience is the images of the Milky Way, which were taken by the Perth observatory outside York, where the night sky looks just like it would have from Cathedral Square a hundred years ago.
What does this second work mean to you and your connection to the site?
I still can’t quite believe that I’ve been asked to illuminate a 17 metre by 3.6 metre reflection pool with the night sky in the middle of the city. Light is such a beautiful medium to work with. Of course we are all familiar with the mesmeric qualities of light on water – who doesn’t love to watch the setting sun over a water body, or the glittering reflection and caustic patterns in rock pools. Granted, I don’t have projection equipment as powerful as the sun, but the phenomenal qualities of rock pools and sunsets are clearly visible in Starry Night at Point Zero.
It’s been a total joy to create this artwork and it is very rewarding to consider that I’ll be able to come and experience the Starry Night at Point Zero with friends, family and passers-by for many years to come.
What was the inspiration and significance of the creatures in the pond?
As I was gazing into the stars and looking into deep space thanks to some of the staff at the Perth Observatory and NASA, I also chanced to gaze into the deep sea. American marine biologist Edith Widder has published some of the most extraordinary footage of deep sea marine creatures interacting through bioluminescence. Widder observes that there is a language of light in the deep sea, with around 90 per cent of marine creatures using bioluminescence emissions to communicate. Thus began an aesthetic pairing of bioluminescent bodies against the starry night sky, a combination which I find exquisitely beautiful.
In Starry Night at Point Zero, these bioluminescent creatures are given a cosmological seal by patterning their luminous skins with designs derived from the repository of Western Australian memory (the archive), and by communicating with visitors through animated emissions of light. The names of the creatures are reminiscent of constellations and mythological figures; Medusa, Waugal, Turtle, Swan, Vampire, Emu, Atolla and Cteno.
What is the significance of the starry night sky?
The constellation images projected on the reflection pool have been selected from a series of images provided by the Perth Observatory. The images have been recorded near York where the city light doesn’t drown out the stars and reveal, as close as we can get to what the Milky Way would look like seen from the State Buildings.
The Ephemeral Interactive Reflective Pond is located at Foundation Place. It offers a unique experience for visitors to interact with art, and tells in its own way our deep connection with nature and the night sky.