The Secret Life of Death Clouds

Craft & Design
The Secret Life of Death Clouds

Matt Jones contemplates life by building moving sculptures that fail to replicate it. A graduate student in art at Stanford University, his investigations have led him, among other things, to use an air compressor to animate a respiratory system fashioned from old bicycle inner tubes, and to motorize a carpet of zip ties laced with LEDs to approximate a pulsing, gently respiring, furry hide. His goal: to tease out the vital essence that makes the living live.

It took a giant garbage bag full of hot air to teach him to appreciate the life coursing through his creations. To create the grandiose piece Black Cloud for a death-themed Land Art show in the cactus-studded desert of central New Mexico, Jones needed little more than a pair of scissors and a lot of tape.

He cut out black garbage bags, sealed their edges to each other, and then rigged a squirrel cage fan with ducting to fill the vessel with sun-heated air, floating it several feet above the ground. Once aloft, the Suburban-sized balloon seemed to find a mind of its own in even the gentlest breeze. Trying to steer the cloud with fishing line before a crowd of spectators, says Jones, was “like trying to drag in an orca — an orca that insists on jumping into cacti.” Long patching sessions followed each brief and otherworldly flight.

Despite the difficulties and constraints inherent in making kinetic sculpture (it has to work, after all), Jones says it pleases him more than traditional media. “Besides color, line, and solid shapes,” he explains, “there are entire regions [of the brain] devoted to detection of movement, areas untouched by static art.”

Certainly, Jones’ kinetic works breathe life into many regions of the mind — especially when they’re cooperating. “After the showdown in the desert,” he says, “I came to cherish those moments when my work wasn’t broken.”

>> Matt Jones’ website:

From the column Made on EarthMAKE 8, page 23 – Eric Smillie.

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