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A remarkable exhibition at the Sydney Opera House explores the psychedelic potential of pneumatic, inflatable structures. Stephen Lacey reports.



January 21st, 2014

Wandering through Exxopolis is a little like exploring the colourful intestines of some enormous sea creature; a labyrinthine sculpture of colour, form and music. The effect can be mesmerising and at times a little disconcerting. Tunnels divide into more tunnels, emerging in rooms awash in reds, pinks, purples and greens. There are nooks and crannies where you can lay back, listen to the soundtrack and contemplate the complex geometric forms above – from an enormous cupola (inspired by the circular space of the Chapter House of Southwell Minster) to a towering electric red ‘tree’.


Founder, designer and artistic director Alan Parkinson first started experimenting with pneumatic sculptures in the 1980s and has since developed his own language of form in this unique plastic medium.


Parkinson’s involvement began on a Nottingham community project in 1981. He designed and built his first luminarium in 1985, with the aid of Probation Service offenders. In 1990 he created ‘Eggopolis’, which was the first of his luminaria to be shown outside Nottinghamshire. In 1992 the community project closed down and Architects of Air was formed.


“What motivates me to design is the fact that I continue to be struck by the beauty of light and colour found in the luminaria”, Parkinson says. “These structures nurture an awareness of a pure phenomenon that gently cuts through everyday conditioned perceptions and awakens a sense of wonder in people.”


The well-travelled Parkinson draws his inspiration from the Middle Eastern bazaars, Gothic cathedrals and works of modern architecture he has visited. His creations are hand-made in PVC, by a team of five workers taking about 4 months to complete.

Over the past twenty years Architects of Air has built 21 luminaria and toured in 38 countries around the globe. The current exhibition is on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House, where it will stay inflated until January 27.

Architects of Air

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