At Large  November 2, 2020  Cynthia Close

Patrick Shearn's Kinetic Sculptures Bring Change to the Air

courtesy poetic kinetics

Digital rendering of Change in the Air

The indefatigable artist Patrick Shearn is a beacon of positivity in a world where hope and the promise of a better future is in short supply. The founder of Poetic Kinetics, Shearn and his team are creators of memorable large scale interactive public art experiences like their roving astronaut, a huge hit in their seven appearances at Coachella 2019. Shearn spoke to Art & Object last year while he was in the midst of installing Silver Current, one of his Skynet pieces to highlight the achievements of sustainable wind power in New Bedford, Massachusetts. As if that wasn’t enough for one year, Shearn and his crew installed Visions in Motion, a rainbow of wishes wafting over the sky in November 2019 at the Brandenburg Gate in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As an artist, I am deeply moved by the invitation to translate such a watershed moment in human history into physical form. In light of the state of affairs in the world today, I feel it is a time to be bold, gather together with a unified voice, and throw our shared colors and our dreams skyward for the world to see.
     Patrick Shearn

It was this project, a collaboration between Berliners and folks in their sister city of Los Angeles, home-base for Poetic Kinetics, that laid the groundwork for Shearn’s latest project, A Change in the Air. He had barely paused to take a breath when I caught up with him (virtually) and Marnie Sehayek, Creative Strategist at Poetic Kinetics, to chat about the outside–the–box thinking involved in such a monumental undertaking.

Brian Passey

Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics installing Reflection Rising at Canal Convergence 2018, Scottsdale, AZ.

Cynthia Close: The Berlin installation was an incredible happening. How did A Change in the Air evolve from there?

Patrick Shearn: Berlin was one of the first projects to collect messages. People responded to the open-ended prompt What if…? [For Change in the Air] we initially were creating an idea around kids in cages, then COVID and Black Lives Matter happened. We decided to focus on what mattered to people. We wanted to look for solutions. We can’t go back to the way things were. Ideas need to come from everywhere and we are looking for how we want to design a future together.

© Kulturprojekte Berlin, Photo Martin Diepold

Visions in Motion, installed in front of Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, November 2019

CC: How are you going about collecting people’s messages?

PS: We provide prompts; What if…? What matters to you…? What are solutions for a better world…? Using social media you can respond from home, or anywhere. You can hashtag  #changeintheair tagging Poetic Kinetics. You can send a text to 213-409-9726. Each message is handwritten on a single streamer and will be attached to an aerial canopy that will be displayed on the Mall in Washington D.C. We did a fun thing here in LA where we had a chalkboard mural on the street and people could write their messages on it. We’d take the messages and then clean off the mural every day.

CC: The Berlin project generated over 30,000 messages from people all over the world. How has the response been to A Change in the Air?

PS: In the thousands and it’s growing every day. It’s been a potent process. People are concerned and upset and hopeful and driven. It’s been humbling to get the kind of response we’ve had, to be so connected to people.

CC: What’s the launch plan?

PS: This is an organic type of project. We will launch when it is safe for everyone–create a celebratory thing–first in Washington D.C., and then take it on tour thanking everyone in all parts of the country. The messages cut through all the chatter. They unify things.

Markus Eberhardt

Visions in Motion

Marnie Sehayek: The uncertainty of this moment is most profoundly unifying. This is a platform for ideas. An opportunity to do what we do best, to call attention to, and create, spectacle. 

CC: The element of risk, everything you’ve done must’ve had a risk assessment?

MS: One thing about Patrick and his vision as an artist–his threshold for risk is so much greater than the average person. The types of technology that Patrick achieves in installations are on the edge of what is doable. For years he pushed his Skynet technology, and no one was willing to take the risk. Patrick was unwilling to give up but was also open to failure. The first Skynet [Liquid Shard] was an overnight sensation, an identity-forming moment for the studio. We are unafraid and part of our duty is to inspire our partners along with us.

courtesy poetic kinetics

Digital rendering of Change in the Air

PS: What’s the worst that could happen? I’m very careful about life and limb and doing damage. If Change in the Air is successful it far outweighs the risk.

CC: What’s your picture of success?

PS: This divisiveness seems fabricated to me. I want to see people standing together, under a piece of art, breathing the same air, their heads passing through the streamers when we bring it down low, reading it in San Francisco Des Moines, Iowa, Kentucky, Florida, and New York and know it was received positively in all those places. That would constitute success.

MS: There is something meditative and healing about these works as well.

CC: We can certainly use more of that.

About the Author

Cynthia Close

Cynthia Close holds a MFA from Boston University, was an instructor in drawing and painting, Dean of Admissions at The Art Institute of Boston, founder of ARTWORKS Consulting, and former executive director/president of Documentary Educational Resources, a film company. She was the inaugural art editor for the literary and art journal Mud Season Review. She now writes about art and culture for several publications.

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