Following the success of Easy Rider, an installation by land artist Patrick Dougherty, Dumbarton Oaks, which used to be a somewhat stuffy D.C. institution, seems to have really let loose with Cloud Terrace, a new temporary installation by landscape artists Cao | Perrot. In an effort to create “fresh, unexpected experiences” in Dumbarton Oaks’ gardens, Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot roped in a bunch of volunteers to create hand-meshed clouds that dangle some 10,000 Swarovski crystals (on loan), creating the effect of raining clouds. While some argue that messing with these gardens is like “adding a moustache to the Mona Lisa,” said John Beardsley, director of the landscape studies program, the new Dumbarton Oaks team is for “breathing new life into these landscapes,” which are “living works” no matter how historic.
In describing his firm’s work, Cao, who was born in Vietnam but raised in the U.S., says he’s into creating temporary places. However, the real theme seemed to be recreating the beauty and power of key moments in nature, like “Cherry blossoms blooming,” but using non-conventional materials to create these effects. At first glance, their installation can seem otherworldly.
Cao and Perrot discussed some of their earlier works. Lareau Garden, one of the duo’s earliest installations, includes thousands of glass pebbles, which seem to create a river through the site. The project took two years to create but looks like it just happened.
The Lullaby Garden project was created using rolled earthen forms, while carpets of biodegradable nylon material were sewn and laid on top, also creating a sense of rolling waves. This project, like others, has an ephemeral feel and uses organic and recycled materials designed to disintegrate, destroying the landscape art work in the process. Cao said: “the colors were designed to slowly fade and the forms will disappear over time.”
An eye-opening project, Mimosa, in the Luxembourg Garden’s Medici Foundation, used fresh mimosa flowers suspended on fishing lines to bring a bit of New Delhi to France.
An earlier cloud project, which is in the same family of projects as the Dumbarton Oaks installation, brings clouds to a backyard in Los Angeles, while the unbelievable Willow Tree is made up of 80,000 mother-of-pearl leaves crafted by a village in China.
This project, like so many others by this team, is clearly inspired by nature and creates similarly powerful effects, yet is somehow not natural. Perrot tried to explain: these projects are for a “specific time – they are about the moment. They are not just a landscape, but a total environment.”
The duo is not just stopping at the small, temporary scale but are delving into large-scale works of landscape architecture, too. One park in the works in China will be more than 600 acres and will promise a sequence of outdoor “rooms” with different experiences, all set using their “intuition” throughout.
Image credits: (1-3) Cloud Terrace at Dumbarton Oaks; image © Stephen Jerrome for cao | perrot studio, (4-7) copyright Cao | Perrot