‘People ignore it. Children play tag in spite of it. Teenagers dare each other to punch it.’ Robert Reid on Federation Square’s public artwork Sky Castle
Because it caught my eye – and because apparently around this time of year I start periodically wondering about reviewing experiences other than performance as performance – I told myself to Federation Square to get a look at Sky Castle. The company behind it, Eness, were responsible for the Tron Skate Ramp and the Mobius sculpture that filled the Fed Square forecourt a few years back. Sky Castle isn’t quite up to the standard of those earlier works.
An abstract interactive blow up installation, it promises to be sensitive to the presence of people moving through it, with the lights and sounds emerging form within its tubular structures. In reality there are 11 inflatable pipes bent double and plonked unceremoniously at the back of the forecourt right by the Beer Deluxe.
The interactive soundtrack was for the most part drowned out by a nearby mariachi band who appeared to be sound checking in the square at that moment, and the shouting of children running in and out of the arches. There is a near constant drone of bells coming from it and some sweepy synth sounds that carry on without much variation.
When the children are called away by parents the noise is less contestant as they aren’t running around triggering it, but it’s still pretty annoyingly present and unchanging. I can imagine myself as shop attendant flipping out and burning down the convenience store I work in where this drone has been playing all shift.
The tubes themselves aren’t that attractive or impressive. Made of a white material uniformly covered by pink and orange or yellow and blue flecks, they remindsme of my mother’s Formica kitchen table from the ’70s. The tubes stack on top of each other too, looking for all the world like giant toilet paper rolls.
The installation is small compared to the rest of the square, particularly as the square is packed full of other competing activations: an open green where families can sit and children push each other over and not one but two Santa’s grottos, one of which features a digitally interactive advent calendar. It all just seems like a mess, like the result of a programming clash nightmare. Like the result of a Culture, Events and Activations team who aren’t communicating well.
The arrangement of the arches makes them difficult to walk through to trigger the soundscape, because as soon as you pass under one arch way you’re blocked by another. It doesn’t encourage movement through, only around.
At night I’m sure Sky Castle is more enchanting. The lights inside them are almost barely visible during the day, so maybe it’s more magical in the dark; but at this end of the year that’s precious few hours of the day for a return on investment.
It’s a great pity that Fed Square is so often badly mishandled as a cultural space. It has so much great potential. There are the accessibility problems that were built into it, of course, but nothing that can’t be solved. Scattering a handful of unrelated stuff into the open space seems like a waste. The whole offering looks clumsy.
Sky Castle is as good an example of Fed Square’s focus on profit over community and treating what is effectively Melbourne’s town square as a commercial space. Sky Castle is bland and small and imaginationless. It’s betrayed by its haphazard presence. It’s meaningless as anything other than an aesthetic experience and it’s stripped of all context for that by its placement. People ignore it. Children play tag in spite of it. Teenagers dare each other to punch it.
I feel sad for Sky Castle.
Sky Castle, by Eness at Federation Square.