The Aurora

Submitted by Jen Lewin Studio

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Client: Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) & Airport Foundation MSP

Location: Minneapolis–Saint Paul , MN, United States

Completion date: 2021

Artwork budget: $750,000

Project Team

Artist

Jen Lewin

Jen Lewin Studio

Director, [email protected]

Ben Owen

Airport Foundation MSP

Overview

Existing at the intersection of art and technology, The Aurora is a 29-foot-tall, 720-pound experiential sculpture in which both human interaction and weather factors create swirling patterns of color and light. The title of Lewin’s work references the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights—naturally occurring light phenomena that are visible in the northern sky during fall and winter months. Inspired by the beauty and complexity of these organic light forms, Lewin programmed her work to change color based on the weather in Minneapolis. In addition, visitors can shoot light through the sculpture with their motions—underscoring the dynamic interactions between people and environment. Below The Aurora are eight platforms that respond to touch, encouraging visitors to actively participate in an ever-changing composition.

The Aurora features hundreds of color palettes with over 8,000 LEDs that are programmed to reflect the seasons and live weather conditions in Minneapolis. The artwork consists of 23,000 aluminum rings formed into a wispy, honeycomb-like structure that evokes the solar wind patterns that create the Aurora Borealis in real life. 2,667 hand-blown glass bulbs are attached to the structure, each with three light-emitting diodes inside.

Goals

The goal of the project was to bring the great state of Minnesota indoors for airport travelers. The airport actually cut a hole through 3 floors of the building to accommodate the sculpture, so it twists upward through the arrivals level with the lakes below.

Process

The Aurora was completed in 2021 and was jointly commissioned by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) and the Airport Foundation MSP. A 16-member Blue Ribbon Artist Selection Panel chose Lewin for the project because of her extensive experience creating new media and interactive sculptures for public use and enjoyment.

Lewin held multiple sessions with members of the airport's staff, and surrounding community members. During these sessions, she asked people for their impressions of the seasons, and which natural features symbolize the state of Minnesota. Selecting public lakes, an ever-present symbol of the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," and the fleeting but famous Aurora Borealis, Lewin brought together different aspects of the environment with motion sensing technology to make people feel that they are a part of the sculpture, and the state's majestic landscape.