Installation review: Cloudland

An immersive installation with storytelling hinging on light and sound.

Envisioned as a 40-minute long respite from busy city life, Cloudland from installation artist Chi-uh Star invites visitors to ascend onto the rooftop of Queen Victoria Women’s Centre, leaving behind the buzz of Melbourne’s CBD on the streets below.

From there they enter an enchanting cave, lit with LED lights that seep through cotton-padded surroundings to imitate streaks of sunlight after a heavy storm.

Devoid of performers, Cloudland‘s complex storytelling hinges on the elements of light and sound, which range from the ambient noises of far-off thunder to the chaotic beeping of a supermarket checkout.

Kaleidoscopic colours journey through the cotton clouds, utilising different densities in the material to portray light and dark, as well as interacting with the narrative qualities of the soundscape.

These light effects accompany the soundtrack, at times creating an atmosphere of harmony and wonder, while at others introducing a sense of unease. Those looking for a calming and meditative session will be in for a surprise, as the intensity of the experience peaks when sounds of urban settings cause the LEDs to blinker and glitch in an alarming red, until a climax is reached, ending with what sounds like the flush of a toilet.

Just like the act of cloud-gazing, the work draws on the audience’s own imagination to be transported into different settings. The mind is bound to drift and wonder, but it’s a digression encouraged by artist Chi-uh Star.

Cloudland picks up sensory experiences like puzzle blocks – sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. A calming blend of essential oils fills the room and herbal tea with a hint of cinnamon is offered upon the conclusion of the show.

But perhaps really impactful immersive experiences are a more complex equation than ticking all the boxes, and in this case Cloudland would need some more refinement.

Read: Exhibition review: TIME • RONE, Flinders Street Station

Instead of asking audiences to lie down for its entire duration, movement could help dissipate some of the sensory overload in Cloudland‘s more intense segments, as well as encourage more active participation to explore the work from different angles.

A live component to the soundtrack, such as involving a performer on-site, could make the work more refreshing for each night’s audience.

Overall, if you are someone who can lie comfortably in strobe lights then the show will reward you with moments of calm and wonder, but fine-tuning the mode of audience and performance engagement will help bring Cloudland to a larger stage.

Cloudland by Chi-uh Star

Soundscape by Katerina Stathis

Showing at Queen Victoria Women’s Centre until 18 November; ticketed

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram: @lleizy_