Deep Sea Dreaming - The Jellyfish Bloom

Published on 13 March 2018

Standing four metres tall and embedded with thousands of multi-coloured LED lights, Canberra Centre’s new interactive Jellyfish Bloom installation is both visually arresting and thought-provoking. Commissioned by Canberra Centre as part of this year’s Enlighten Festival, the diaphanous steel and silk creatures are the work of Sydney-based studio Ample Projects. Here, we chat with creative director of Ample Projects, Nicholas Tory about what inspired the ambitious project.

What was the design thinking behind the Jellyfish Bloom installation?

We were inspired by the spectacular natural lighting displays of various species of jellyfish. Also known as medusas, these jellyfish have bioluminescent organs which emit light and help the jellyfish in a number of different ways: from attracting prey to distracting predators.

Just like real jellyfish in the wild, our jellyfish also respond to the presence of humans – serving as a reminder of how our actions affect the world’s delicate ecosystems.

We also took cues from the work of Ernst Haeckel, a 19th-century German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, marine biologist and illustrator who sailed around the world discovering and documenting new marine species. I’ve always loved Haeckel’s work and the way that it celebrates the cross-over between art and science.

It’s worth mentioning that the entire project was made possible by the team at Canberra Centre. We’re very thankful that Canberra Centre had the vision to make something like this happen.

Can you share some insights into the process of making and installing the jellyfish?

The sculptures are made from custom-designed, handmade welded steel frameworks which are then dressed in a delicate silk mesh fabric. Jellyfish are simultaneously delicate and structurally strong, so the sculptures were designed to be strong in their structure but extremely delicate in their semi-transparent outer fabric skins.

Our process started with drawings, then we created an initial 3D design model. Blake Garner, lighting designer and electronics engineer, designed a bespoke lighting control system which was attached to multiple motion sensors hidden in each jellyfish’s head. When they sense movement, the control modules create a flurry of colour and movement.

The jellyfish are designed to break down into several parts for transport and storage. Each one is then assembled on site, a bit like a Lego set. The entire process took over two months to complete, with an extra two nights for our crew to install the jellyfish at Canberra Centre.

What are the key challenges when making large-scale installations such as this?

The big challenge is to avoid over-complicating the work, but at the same time to make it as complex and detailed as possible.

The jellyfish are highly interactive and have been intentionally designed to reveal all of the parts that make them work. The design of the internal organs – in this case, a reactive lighting display system along with all of the electronics, hardware and cabling required to make the jellyfish function – is exposed for all to see.

The installation’s lights are activated via motion sensors, imitating the response that jellyfish would have to humans in the wild. What drove you to highlight this relationship?

A lot of thought and hand-crafting went into creating these objects. We hope that the project can serve to remind people of how incredible the natural world is – and how increasingly out of touch we are with it as humans.

Jellyfish have existed on our planet for at least 500 million years, making them much older than the dinosaurs. Today, there are approximately 4000 known species of jellyfish drifting along ocean currents around the globe.

This project places the viewer within a forest of tentacles. As the jellyfish respond to our presence, we are reminded of how our own actions affect the world’s ecosystems. Jellyfish Bloom is not only an exploration of these surprisingly complex and beautiful sea creatures but a reminder of the important role that they play within the ecosystems of our planet’s oceans.