Secrets of the Sun
Secrets of the Sun is about the beauty and dangers of Sunlight: the beauty of the rainbow and the horrors of global warming, ozone depletion and mass species extinction. This installation was the second (after Rome) of three international venues for Erskine's unprecedented, site-specific, natural-light-and-live-sound-installation. The participatory exhibition (viewers donned white jump suits and signed legal "damage waivers") uses the emotional impact of art to wake people up about our global environmental crisis. The installation was 100% solar powered.
In 1993, Erskine was invited to install Secrets of the Sun: Millennial Meditations in Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures Art Museum). This natural solar spectrum art exhibition was sponsored by the Berlin 2000 Olympic Organizing Committee as the cultural centerpiece for that city’s bid for the 2000 Olympics. And it was installed in a very different, very modern building, compared to S.O.S. – Rome which was sited the previous year in the 2000 year old Roman Forum. The S.O.S. – Rome heliostat solar tracking mirror was enlarged 50% to ten feet high by fifteen feet wide to accommodate this larger venue, and much of the Rome sound and light hardware was modified for the new site.
Sound artist Sam Auinger who had collaborated with Erskine and Bruce Odland for the Rome installation, travelled from Austria to Berlin to help Erskine scout for sites. When they discovered the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Auinger suggested that the huge interior lobby be divided to an outer circulation ring and an inner “Black box” room of 4000 square feet, using a continuous twenty foot high wall of black theatrical velvet. Designing the Berlin installation in a one tenth scale model in his Venice, California studio, Erskine divided the interior space into three continuous flowing rooms for the for the solar spectrum light and the real-time environmental sound installation by Odland and Auinger. Theater tech genius Fernando Toma, Erskine’s Rome installation foreman, also supervised the Berlin set-up process. Odland and Auinger composed a new live ambient sound installation they called “Lost Neighborhood,” once again creating the interior and exterior spacial “connectedness” that unified the entire project. Their sound elements included appropriating the fabulous Mercedes Benz carillon bell tower that stands in the Tiergarten park next to the HKW (House of World Cultures), and a “Tuning Tube” that harmonized the racket of Berlin’s live traffic noise into a real-time soundscape of ever-changing Watery Music. Odland’s “Mass for Endangered Species” was brought from Rome and installed in first darkened space, the “Spectrum Vapor Chimney Room.” A subtle found soundscape entitled “Lost Neighborhood” played in the “Extinction Room” at the geographic “end” of the installation space. And as the white suited visitor/participants exited the installation they triggered the playing of the “Shoppers March,” an “Oompa, Oompa” German sounding brass choir composition written by Odland.
Like Erskine’s previous installation in the ancient Roman Markets of Trajan, S.O.S. Berlin focused on the planetary issues of global warming, the (then in 1993) growing ozone hole, and the fact that we are in the midst of the greatest mass species extinction since the dinosaurs. And, as in Rome, part of the solution to global warming was presented in the 100% solar powered S.O.S. project itself – with its 12,000 watt heliostat and photo voltaic panels powering all the sound, motors and computers. As in S.O.S. – Rome, the white suited visitors first circumambulated the exterior site in a ritual route that passed next to the towering solar array and under the building’s sound reflecting roof, before stepping into the sublime rainbow light of the darkened interior rooms. Because the exhibition opened only two years after the Berlin wall came down, the installation also addressed the regional environmental issues of acid rain and air pollution caused by massive coal burning, especially in the former East Germany, and the human illness and species extinction caused by those emissions.