Arts & Culture

‘Reflecting Motion’: Meet the artist behind the amazing installation at Union Station

Patrick Shearn, founder and CEO of Poetic Kinetics, is best known for his giant puppet performance in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, as well as the iconic and lifelike art pieces he presents at Coachella, Burning Man and other music festivals each year.

In August 2016, he became an overnight sensation after mesmerizing Los Angeles residents with the first of his Skynet Series. Now he’s bringing the latest in that series, a 12,000-square-foot net of holographic mylar and monofilament, to the Haverty Family Yards on the west side of Union Station. Called “Reflecting Motion,” the canopy of 78,000 streamers will capture the movement of the wind as it rises and falls 18 to 72 feet. The installation will be on display through September 2.

Kansas City Spaces: What inspired you to start Poetic Kinetics?

Patrick Shearn: In 2005-2006, I was working in the film industry doing creature mechanics, such as the dinosaurs for Jurassic Park, and simultaneously taking big art pieces to Burning Man. In 2008, someone who had seen one of my installations at Burning Man called and asked me to do a puppet show for the Summer Olympics in Beijing comprising a 26-foot Terracotta Warrior and 16-foot girl. For six months, my partner and I wrote, directed and produced this puppet show that ran four times a day for 17 days in a row. After this, I kind of walked away from the film industry because the inquiries never stopped.

Artist Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics installed ‘Reflecting Motion’ at Union Station
Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics is the artist behind “Reflecting Motion” at Union Station. Judy Revenaugh

KCS: What inspired you to incorporate science, technology and movement into your work?

PS: I’m really influenced by everything I see, touch and experience. I look at it through the lens of, “How could I incorporate and combine this with something else?” or, “What could it be with a different purpose?” I’m always trying to combine my inspirations with what I’m playing with or working with at the moment. I’m also influenced by nature and observing how things play out. The Skynet Series is influenced by schools of fish, and the aura of reality in the sky as birds and clouds both shift and coalesce. It’s all about paying attention to the subtlety of motion in order to make it believable and real.

KCS: How did you come up with “Reflecting Motion?”

PS: As a kid in Alaska, I worked on fishing boats and made nets designed to be transparent in the water so fish would swim into them. I had that in the back of my mind as I was playing with this abundance of super-thin, plastic film material that I wanted to repurpose. I thought about the netting I had as a kid and it became clear I was (going) in the right direction. This material was light enough for the wind to have range of motion, but strong enough for the wind not to tear it apart. To make this piece look as if it’s floating, we anchored it down using an invisible material called Dyneema. It weighs nothing, has the strength of steel and responds like rope. Real artistry is all in how it’s rigged.

KCS: You installed the original piece in the Skynet Series in one night to surprise the people of Los Angeles. How did you do that?

PS: I was teaching a three-week seminar for the Architectural Association about building structures for music festivals. I wanted to show the students that dealing with festivals is all about dealing with parameters: inebriated people, security guards, weather — all of it. So, we found this location and got approval from a park supervisor to do our temporary art. We built everything off-site and began installing it at sunset. By 9 a.m. the next morning, the installation was done. The security guards and people coming to work started taking pictures as it was sort of a mystery to people, and things blew up very quickly. In two days, one of the many videos had 25 million views and 250,0000 shares.

KCS: What does it feel like to be under the piece, and how do you want people to respond to it?

PS: This piece is very whimsical and depending on the time of day, each angle looks totally different. If you’re laying under the Skynet while it’s breezy, the pattern will be still yet the streamers will be reactive. It’s a similar experience to seeing a pattern of wind flow across a wheat field, but this is something very large hanging low above your head and sounding like Aspen trees. When the wind picks up, and it goes to full height at 72 feet, you see the symphonic movements coming off the reflections around you, and you become exposed to the wind for what it’s really doing.

I hope people come paying more attention to everything happening around them. Yeah, you can take a selfie with this thing, and it’ll be great –– people will know you saw it. But this is an opportunity to set down your phone and be present because you need to experience this piece in order to really capture it. You’ll never get it in a single photo.

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