‘Ein Volumen aus Licht’ was my contribution to the ambitious exhibition ‘Der Aussenraum’ in Vienna, Austria. As indicated by the name, the exhibition took place in the open air – in squares, streets and parks. My contribution was placed in Schottentor, probably the most central spot in Vienna. It is neither a square nor a park but a traffic intersection on three levels, with a subterranean level reserved for the metro. This is a place where different kinds of traffic intersect and where you change means of conveyance and direction. On the ground level there is an oval roundabout dominated by cars and trams. Several main streets with very busy traffic converge here. In the middle of the roundabout there is a wide opening to the level underneath. Under this opening there is a lawn which has the same oval shape as the opening itself. The lawn forms the centre of the subterranean area. The trams somehow manage to get down here and circulate around the lawn, the rails framing the elevated surface. This – the lawn framed by tram rails – is where ‘Ein Volumen aus Licht’ was to be placed during the exhibition period.
I thought about Vienna, its location in the middle of Europe, and I thought about the various waves of migration that have flooded the city. I started to think about tents, dwellings for refugees, about the lights in the tents, about light as human presence. Immediately prior to the exhibition I had been working with other luminous objects, the first group of Jimmys. I had also been working with textile fabrics, thin fabrics hanging like laundry from wires over a large space and tulles hanging from big trees. From performance projects that I had previously participated in I also had experience using fabric for light projections.
I wanted to make the volume of light lighter, whiter, thinner, more luminous and as big as possible. I envisaged an object containing the essence of the baroque and of summer, in the damp weather of late autumn. The large volume of light would preserve the summer, the heat and light of summer. It would bring back the Vienna of the baroque era, the waltzes, the festivities, the costumes, the dazzlingly white dancing Lipizzaner stallions and the gingerbread work of the houses – in other words splendour and luxurious abundance. I knew that the big volume of light had to be made of fabric, a thin white fabric that lets the light through. Probably the same material that is used for air balloons. I knew that bouyancy would be needed to keep it inflated and that I was going to need really powerful lighting. I also knew that Lars Bylund, my lighting expert, could arrange this.
The project was accepted for the exhibition. The balloon was manufactured, fans, wires and iron fittings were bought. We packed up the tools. Now it only remained to erect the balloon. It had to go up. The money provided for in the budget had gone into manufacturing the balloon. There was nothing left for the trip, but my friends came along anyway. A regular expedition set out for Vienna: Nils and Veronika Borg, Maria Hellström, Jimmy Söderling and Lars Bylund. None of them got paid, and they had to pay for their own tickets and lodgings. I don‘t understand why they did it, but I am grateful. Nils Borg said in a light tone: ”You should arrange this kind of journey and charge people for coming along”. I don’t know whether he was ironic or if he really meant it; I didn’t dare to ask. Without them I would never have managed to erect the balloon.
Thinking back on the trip it was rather like a rainy vacation in a sodden tent.
It was much more difficult than we had thought to set up the balloon. The tent pegs were pulled up as if they were toothpicks. We had to make new, stronger ones. It rained all the time, and it was cold and sometimes windy. I think we worked for a week just setting it up. I still remember how it felt out there on the lawn under that big opening in the city centre of Vienna; it was as if we had gone through at least one month of hard labour in an extremely inhospitable climate. Now and then we warmed ourselves with hot beverages and Russian pasties which we bought from a small shop on the lower level close to where we were working. Day after day we struggled until we were cold as ice and soaking wet.
Lars Bylund was the lighting expert and responsible for the lamps which were to light up the balloon. “I can tell you, they will shine brighter than any other lamps”, he said. The lamps arrived in three heavy cases from the USA. Lars had arranged for us to borrow them. He designed the circuits at a workshop nearby. The lamps that were to light up the balloon were so new that they were not even lamps but separate components that had to be connected. Lars is more of a theorist; he was not very keen on actually connecting them. He was probably aware that a faulty connection would cause them to break. Jimmy was more of a handyman so he took charge of fitting the lighting. The lamps were so powerful that you couldn’t come near them without wearing welder’s goggles.
After work on the last day when we all were totally exhausted, Lars announced that he had booked a table in one of the finest restaurants in Vienna. We had an incredible meal which stirred us up from our primitive existence, turning us again into people of culture who enjoyed the sophistication of the wine and food.
So in the end we did it. The balloon sat there. Luminous, it rose above the traffic intersection, lighting up the lower level. It was magic, alluring and elusive, we thought. So did many other people. Then we went home. ‘Ein Volumen aus Licht’ remained for five whole weeks.
Three years later, in connection with the final week of Stockholm’s year as the European Capital of Culture, I created a similar installation, ‘A Drop of Light’. I had refined my production technique; the balloon was tailor-made from a three-dimensional data model in accordance with my drafts. I didn’t have to set up the balloon myself. It was given a very prominent place outside the Parliament building in Stockholm, mainly because this was an open space that was large enough for erecting the installation. The balloon was knifed by somebody during the first night, but it was mended and remained there for the duration of the exhibition, one week in December 1998.
Two years after that, the same balloon participated in the Light Festival in Helsingborg, and in 1999 I used it again as a train for a wedding-dress.