Hot air balloons breathe light into EPFL

© 2023  EPFL/Julian Gremaud - CC-BY-SA 4.0

© 2023 EPFL/Julian Gremaud - CC-BY-SA 4.0

When the sun goes down on October 6, the night sky above the Rolex Learning Center at EPFL will be illuminated by white, tethered hot air balloons, a project by Swiss artist Denis Savary entitled Roma Roma Roma.

“I conceived these five hot air balloons as kinetic and light sculptures” says Denis Savary. “The idea is they will illuminate the Learning Center, creating a kind of dialogue with the building.”

Two further activations of the work will also take place in 2024, culminating in a film in autumn 2024, which will bring together the multiple flights of these hot-air balloons.

Enchanting the EPFL sky

Savary was inspired to create Roma Roma Roma, which was a commission by the city of Geneva, when he was visiting the Cinecittà in Rome, leading him to make a connection between the cinema setting and the architecture of Geneva’s Old Town.

For the version he will present at the Rolex Learning Center, he connected this idea to The Penguin Pool at the London Zoo, designed in 1934 by architect Berthold Lubetkin, which is white and composed of a series of curves, also playing with form and light.

“Like a performance, it will animate the Rolex Learning Center and enchant the EPFL sky,” says Véronique Mauron Layaz, Head of CDH-Culture who chose to invite Savary this year. “Roma Roma Roma will inject the unknown into a known space, disruption into a familiar place. The patios of the Rolex will become expanded, illuminated and full of sound. The architecture of the building will not only be the setting for the performance, but will also reveal itself in a new way.”

Along with the feeling that the interface between the light of the balloons and the building will give, Savary is also looking forward to the way the sound of the fire in the balloons interacts with the building.

“Like the sound of breathing in a different way,” he says.

© 2023 EPFL / Julian Gremaud

“Part of the living textile”

In addition to the live activations, Savary will be making a film, assisted by Julien Gremaud. This film is part of the project as well, and will be shown at the Rolex Forum next year. In addition, if there is too much wind or rain to do one or more of the launches, the film will offer the public a chance to still share in the experience.

“I felt like I was in a giant, inverted diorama” Savary said of the trial he and his team conducted at EPFL in late September. “I wondered whether theactivity inside the building would interfere too much with the appearance of the balloons. On the contrary, these two worlds paradoxically played very well together.”

While Savary naturally wants people to come to his exposition intentionally, he is also pleased for people to come upon it by accident as they make their way across campus or go to the library.

“Maybe they won’t even care, but I also like that,” he says. “It means that my exposition is part of the living textile.”

Denis Savary’s Roma Roma Roma will be launched for the first time at EPFL on October 6 at 19:30 (weather permitting).There will be two more activations in May 2024 and September 2024. The final launch will be accompanied by the screening of the film.

CDH Culture art installation series
Every year since 2011, the CDH Culture program has invited an artist to design and create an original work for the Rolex Learning Center's outdoor patios. Always ephemeral, the works of art are created specifically for the patio spaces, to which they pay homage, and challenge the EPFL community to consider questions at the intersection of art, science, and society. Unlike in years past, this year’s work of art is not something fixed, available to be visited by the EPFL community throughout the year. Instead, Roma Roma Roma will be a sporadic experience only produced on a few occasions.

Author: Stephanie Parker

Source: College of humanities | CDH

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