The Cloud Gate Sculpture, Chicago

By Ana Lopes Ramos, Architect, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Reflections on Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate Sculpture.

A discovery

The day is gray, drizzle. We’re in the Millenium Park in Chicago; a place of passage and wandering. For the city man, an escape of the daily hustle and bustle, a place of refuge and proximity with nature; for the traveller a must-visit place – an open space, green, within a bustling city.

Millennium Park, Chicago, showing the Cloud Gate sculpture against the backdrop of the city buildings 2011. Photography by Ana Lopes Ramos

Millennium Park, Chicago, showing the Cloud Gate sculpture against the backdrop of the city buildings 2011. Photography by Ana Lopes Ramos

We note a geometric design, a strict green cord. The repetitive and ordered elements send us back to the French Geometric Gardens of the 18th Century, in contradiction with a city turned to progress; an arrangement that reminds us the rigor and proportion typical in Renaissance, although with noticeably contemporary elements like the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the BP Bridge (Frank Gehry), the Crown Fountain (Jaume Plensa’s), Cloud Gate (Anish Kapoor) among others.

A metallic bean

We give special attention to this last one: a sculpture in a place of excellence, right in the centre of AT&T Plaza, the Millenium Park Square. This metallic, mirror and curved volume that looks like a giant bean, reflects the city skyline that surrounds it, but not in its whole or veracity. What we see is subverted, distorted. This brings us to a parallel reality where space and form are manipulated. A dare to a society that doesn’t sees itself in the imaginarium; but still, a society that promotes the cult of the image. And what better than an object that offers us a countless number of them?! It becomes an object of admiration and appreciation. Perhaps because it offers us a new “I”, a projection of ourselves as we approach that is modifying accordingly with our movement.

People interacting with the Cloud Gate, Chicago, 2011. Photography by Ana Lopes Ramos

People interacting with the Cloud Gate, Chicago, 2011. Photography by Ana Lopes Ramos

We interact with the unknown object. Unknown because man tend to speculate and find relations with the resembling reservoir of images and archetypes that his memory holds and, here, he doesn’t associate it with any other object, perhaps a bean, but it is a purely formal resemblance: the scale is much bigger and the material is not organic nor green. We wonder: what is it? Where does it come from? We search for the answer. We can’t absorb its true dimension, to us it seem light and almost weightless – an illusion caused by its mirrored materiality. Kapoor’s inspiration was the liquid mercury but the form doesn’t relate with a drop of mercury, WE don’t relate the object with a drop of mercury. Without a proper answer soon we drop the question. Instead, we are dazzled with the ephemeral nature of images that change every second either by our movement, or by the weather’s mutable condition; or by the surroundings in general. A loose element, autonomous and independent; a fallen object from the sky that absorbs its surroundings and reproduces one of its own in order to be admired in all its variations.

A reality – distorter

To the touch it is cold, raindrops accumulate and slide by it. We go underneath it – the scale of this concave chamber allows it – we look up and another surprise: in the center, the circular flat surface reflects us, this time horizontally. A plan view of us, a bit distant, like the little people we use in order to scale our Architectural Projects. Around the center, the volume distorts, warps, merges and multiplies reality. Now we understand the mercury reference, it actually resembles a fluid, a warped fluid. It designs in its reflections a thousand images of us, all different.

Beneath looking UP. Cloud Gate, Chicago, 2011. Photography by Ana Lopes Ramos

Beneath looking UP. Cloud Gate, Chicago, 2011. Photography by Ana Lopes Ramos

And here, in an attempt to create a variety of distortions – bending, going left and right – we find ourselves attached to an object that is merely aesthetic. A dreamy dizzy weird feeling that keeps us stuck in a stainless steel bean, a piece of street furniture placed in the park that retains our time and attention. Its perfect, abstract and immortal materiality defies our humble imperfect mortal life, sucking us towards it. It’s a reality-distorter, deformer that plays with our reason, perception reaching our imagination and dreams.