When presented with something completely unfamiliar, people tend to reach for comparisons. Locals who saw the Sho-Globe set up in Dimond Courthouse Plaza on Friday afternoon offered a range of imagery to describe the structure’s unusual form: A bubble, an alien space ship, a jellyfish, a womb.
What it was, in fact, was a temporary inflatable room set up in various locations around Juneau as part of a statewide Alaska Design Forum project designed to encourage uncommon ways of looking at public spaces. Part pop-up tent, part art installation, part social study, the Sho-Globe was created by REBAR, a San-Francisco design firm, and was designed to be interactive in the most literal sense — it was made to be occupied.
What did it feel like to be inside? One preschool visitor named Denali offered this enthusiastic response.
“It was like summer!”
His description was strikingly similar to the written project plan originally presented by REBAR artists; they wrote they hoped to create a “mini springtime” inside the Sho-Globe’s walls.
Insulated from a chilly wind and heated by the sun and human warmth, the air inside the Sho-Globe was decidedly warmer than the 40-degree temperature outside Friday afternoon.
Perhaps more remarkable, however, was the way the Sho-Globe, like summer itself, immediately buoyed the spirits of those who experienced it. Kids somersaulted on the AstroTurf floor, well-dressed state workers laughed and reclined on cushions — some visitors even danced, as the music of Bill Withers and Macy Gray issued from specially rigged speakers.
San-Franciso-based artists Blaine Merker and Adam Green, working with ADF’s Karen Larsen and a team of local volunteers, constructed the Sho-Globe last week in an empty storefront on Seward Street. Twenty-six sections of heavy plastic sheeting were fused together with household irons to form the double-layered exterior walls, and when it was ready to be inflated, a high-powered, battery operated air blower was channeled into the space between the outer layers, causing the structure to quickly billow out like an inflated parachute. The finished piece was about 8 feet tall and covered roughly 12-by-18 feet of ground.
The artists ran into a few snags during the construction phase, but said trial and error was part of the process.
“It’s an experiment in improvisational design,” Merker said.
The Sho-Globe also had elements of performance art. Deployment on the roof of the new parking garage Friday night was accompanied by the theme song from the 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Merker and Green both wore white jumpsuits and carried the Sho-Globe from place to place in giant backpacks they constructed in Juneau. The packs, which Green estimated at about 80 pounds each, housed the structure and air blower, as well as a lighting system, speakers and other gear.
When deployed at night, strips of LED lights were set up around the perimeter of the globe, making the whole thing glow in a shifting array of colors. Thursday night, the team set it up in Marine Park, and welcomed a steady stream of bar patrons who were more than happy to climb inside. REBAR artist Green said people coming out of the bars were drawn to the illuminated dome “like moths to a light.”
The artists said they took Juneau’s weather into consideration when planning the piece, knowing they wanted to create a welcoming environment outdoors.
“I guess where we started with this concept was that we wanted to see how public space changed when the ability to be in it in inclement weather changed. We thought of creating a temporary ephemeral shelter we could move around. Then we thought of different ways to do that and landed on this inflatable idea,” Merker said.
They also knew they’d be deploying it during the Alaska Folk Festival, an unusually busy week in Juneau.
Friday night, perched atop the new parking garage, local musician Mike Bucy entertained the Sho-Globe’s visitors on trombone with an impromptu version of “Yellow Submarine,” touching off a round of singing.
ADF’s Karen Larsen said the REBAR artists were selected in part for their multi-layered, community-centered approach to art and design.
“There’s a lot of artists who just want to do their thing and not further the discussion on design and community,” she said. REBAR’s focus on reclaiming public space for public use fit perfectly with the Common Space theme, she said.
The Sho-Globe is one of five ADF Common space projects in progress this week around the state; in addition to Juneau, the communities are Homer, Nome, Anchorage and Fairbanks. Projects varied widely: in Fairbanks, artists and residents focused on the idea of reclaiming an abandoned high-rise; in Nome, the emphasis was on food and subsistence lifestyles, with activities that include scavenging, meal-making and the production of a cook book.
The Alaska Design Forum is a nonprofit made up of architects, artists and designers that has active chapters in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, the group organizes lectures, exhibits and hands-on projects throughout the state. In 2009, the group organized the Freeze project, in which artists from around the world met in Anchorage to create large-scale outdoor installations using snow, ice and light.
For more information about the ADF, visit alaskadesignforum.org and commonspace-ak.org/
For more on REBAR, visit www.rebargroup.org.
• Contact reporter Amy Fletcher at 523-2283 or at email@example.com.