When asked what it’s like watching people interact with his public art project SUN, now installed in Venice, Italy, through Venice Art Projects, Philip Schütte starts by describing “the moment.”
“When they pick up the ball, there’s always this moment where they realize they picked up the sun,” the Dutch artist says. “It speaks to the imagination of everyone—kids, adults, teenagers, art preparators, curators, all get a smile on their face.”
The ball in question is a giant bouncy ball, the kind you might pick up in a bin at the supermarket, painted a blinding bluish white. It’s positioned in front of a large screen displaying a sky stretching over water, alight in the red-orange start of a sunrise. When passersby lift the ball from the floor, the sun rises, tracing the movement of the physical object on the screen. In a video of the install when it was in Rotterdam in February, you can see people, emboldened by their sudden control of the sun, play with their new sense of power: raising it, setting it, lifting it up to high noon and rolling it back and forth along the horizon line.
Schütte started working on the project after seeing the early development stages of a computer game that allowed users to travel through a generated universe, through an infinite number of galaxies and planets. Seeing the planets from different perspectives gave him the idea to create a video with the sun as a 3D object in space. Working with Random Studio, an interactive arts studio in Amsterdam, Schütte built the environment in the video completely from scratch using WebGL, with no real video footage. He added an interactive element to it by allowing the sun to track to the cursor.
But soon Schütte and the team wanted to go bigger, so they added the bouncy ball as a proxy for the sun. The installation shows the software on a huge screen. A camera sensor that tracks the ball emits infrared light, which then is reflected off the surface of the ball to allow for the camera to track its movements.
After June 25, the sun will travel back to Amsterdam to be installed at the gallery W193, then hopefully onward after that. On days when it feels like the world is spinning out of control, it must feel nice to have the sun in your hands.