Cao | Perrot’s Cherry Blossoms

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. 

If in Washington, D.C., be sure to check out Cao | Perrot’s temporary installation before the crystals have to be returned or see their portfolio online.

Image credits: (1-3) Cloud Terrace  at Dumbarton Oaks;  image © Stephen Jerrome for  cao | perrot studio, (4-7) copyright Cao | Perrot

3 thoughts on “Cao | Perrot’s Cherry Blossoms

  1. menkris 04/10/2012 / 5:58 am

    Dumbarton Oaks, stuffy!!?? Really!? Wonders will never cease!
    I count it as one of my happy restful spaces in the world. The beauty of these gardens is that they fit in inobstrusively into the landscape that a distinction between man-made and nature can’t really be made. And this is the stark contrast with modern landscape architecture – its modernity and stark man-made-ness make it look too much like an outsider in such environs. While the modern art installation, is truly beautiful; in this setting, no justice is done to either the art or the gardens. The Blisses and Ms. Ferrand did such a superlatively exceptional job; that I am afraid I have to agree with Mr. Beardsley that, some things are indeed best left well alone.

  2. shmooth 04/10/2012 / 5:48 pm

    would love if these pics could be bigger — tough to actually see if there’s anything to be excited about.

  3. Suzan Hampton 04/11/2012 / 4:11 pm

    Though this project is reminiscent of Bai Yun at Cornerstone Gardens in Sonoma, the effect is completely different and equally stunning. cao | perrot doesn’t focus on contextualizing these works in a direct way, but indirectly meaning is imbued due to the projects’ juxtaposition to and dialog with their surrounding landscapes, which are vastly different.

    In Sonoma, Bai Yun is experienced with a backdrop of wild coastal mountains covered in yellow grassland and grazing cattle to the west, and is backed by the geometry of a large vineyard and San Francisco Bay to the east. High winds sweep the site and the Western sky overhead goes on forever.

    The Dumbarton Oaks setting couldn’t be more different, and the installation feels that way, even in photos. Bai Yun feels like a magical oasis carved out of “Nature” with a capital N: an Islamic jewel-garden glowing in a harsh desert landscape.

    Viewing the photos at Dumbarton Oaks, I’m reminded of an elegant garden vignette, a modern-day reference to the Orientalism of late 18th century European follies. Where a coyote might well lope through Bai Yun on a late summer afternoon hunt, I imagine Merchant-Ivory trysts and tittering gossip taking place amongst the Cherry Blossoms. Sublime!

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