Auckland's new public artwork is all fog and bubbles

A big, bubbly new public artwork outside the Albany pool attracts both wonder and derision – which is just how its creator likes it. 

Vomle Springford: This is your first time seeing the finished work. What is it like to see it from being in your head to now, on site?

Seung Yul Oh: You realise when you look at it through the monitor, it’s not physical, it’s not tangible; being onsite you are confronting it with your body and its own body. That’s the scale thing you don’t get onscreen, it’s great.

How did this artwork come about?
It began with the council asking for expressions of interest, and I submitted a concept. The swimming pool is made for fun and water play so I wanted to have some sort of parallel idea to that, and a degree of interaction. I had to give a presentation and
I made a small model of a swimming pool and I had a tray of detergent and started blowing bubbles through a straw. It found its shape from that early stage.

Can you tell me about the concept behind the artwork?
To start with, the idea of water and body, and water as liquid as a transformative, everchanging element. How water can be observed, or described or felt, in an abstract way. I visited a lot of swimming pools, watching people bombing and the bubbles created from that. It involves the notion of inhaling and exhaling too – that began in other projects of mine of using inflatables in a space, and how the straws are a tool to move the liquid or air in and out. The idea of bubbles or spheres that I like is that it fills the whole space but it’s only the skin really; it’s
a faux mass, it’s actually a hollow thing, like the fog as a formless state.

This is your biggest public artwork to date. What was the process of making it like?
As a public work, you have to think about what kind of materials to use, the scale of it, the technology, and there are a lot of restrictions. Sometimes it may be possible for a temporary indoor work but not for outdoor work. I started by drawing, then clay modelling, then actually using straws and joining them up, and then going through the 3D construction.
The first idea was to create big bubbles; it was possible but not the quality I expected. Looking at actual bubbles – they are so perfectly seamless and flawless, so that was a challenge. It was a complicated and longer process [than other public art projects]. I first started in Newmarket with the egg forms.

What attracts you to doing work in a public space?
The open space and the open audience. It’s out of context in a way: it’s not a gallery where you intentionally go to visit to see art. In an open public space you confront an object you don’t really expect to see – it’s a new discovery. That’s the beauty of it. And if people do get some sort of reaction or feeling from it, it’s quite a special moment for them. I want them to experience art in daily life, and I want to make works for everyone, and especially for local communities – works that offer multiple experiences ranging from quiet contemplative encounters that feed the mind, through to artworks that convey a community’s cultural beliefs, values, and aspirations, to playful physical interactions.

There were two people here before – they weren’t going to the pool, they stopped just to look at the artwork. Do you enjoy seeing people’s reactions to your work?
Absolutely, I like when people are coming to it not necessarily as an artwork or a sculptural object. I don’t mind how they call it. I think when it attracts you and makes you wonder, or want to touch it, or you feel it – that’s a
good thing about public art – that people are open to do that. To me, public art is about a lot more than art. It’s about creating space for social and cultural encounters and thinking about where art fits in, and what’s needed to create such spaces.

What else are you working on at the moment?
I’m doing a semi-permanent sculpture in October at the Christchurch Arts Centre, for the Scape Public Art season. Also at Richmond Library in Nelson, I’m doing a sculpture in an alleyway site and I have work coming up in Korea too, a public sculpture. I’m constantly working on my own things, too. With public sculpture, I get out of my studio and I’m meeting new people – skilled people – and it’s not just my own independent thing. It’s always fascinating [to meet] those people who have skills that I don’t have, making it possible. It’s a heavy duty process. It’s quite fascinating to me.