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Applying art to aerodynamics. Nikola Uzunovski moulds and promotes a sustainable future

Multiple suns, artificial clouds and a sustainable utopia: with physicists, architects and engineers, the Macedonian artist prompts a dialogue between man and his surrounding environment

Renewable energy sources

The motivation behind Uzunovski’s artistic research lies in his avid interest in design and science. «In the second half of the 2000s, there was a sudden interest in the idea of environmentalism as a whole, the philosophy of its foundation and an urge to criticize society in moving towards a more sustainable way of living. The topic of sustainability became a central issue in the Nordic countries, such as Sweden and Finland». We are becoming less reliant on the existing carbon based fuel options and open to other forms of renewable energy sources, perhaps even the solar energy produced by multiple suns. Whilst in the conception process of a video project, Uzunovski stumbled upon an idea which would develop and accompany him for several years. «There are villages in Lapland whose day lasted only half an hour. I wanted to find a spot, place a camera facing south and film a day from sunrise to sunset which only lasted thirty minutes. Once I went to Lapland to film the shortest day, I found that there was no sun in the valley but on top of a hill the sun was passing approximately two meters above. The sun’s rays were close, but I couldn’t catch them. We considered the idea of a mirror to reflect the sunlight downwards onto populated spaces. A practical solution to achieving more sunlight during the day».

The video of the shortest day was put to one side, and work began on the creation of an artificial sun, which would reflect light onto villages which were deprived of sunlight in the winter. Uzunovski considered different structures and decided on «a transparent blimp, which has a reflective disc in the middle of the bubble, and to create a rotation system that can move the mirror inside the balloon in any direction. The final product is an artificial sun. When you are in the glare of this new sun, it is not possible to perceive the artificial elements of the bubble, you cannot see the mechanics of the sun, only its light. The glare obscures the balloon, creating an almost natural feel». Instead of a fixed installation, Uzunovski wished to conceive a computer-controlled drone, which would become mobile and transportable to other destinations in need of light. The project was given the name My Sunshine.

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My Sunshine Zagreb, 2010

How to create an artificial sun

Not an easy task to undertake as the artist had to focus on the theoretical aspects of the project before assembling the first prototype. The artist was aware of his limits within the field of aerodynamics and required the expertise and assistance of engineers, architects, environmentalists and physicists. Uzunovski aimed to open My Sunshine to a wide audience of participants, in both its creation and reception. «The first stage of the project was made in a workshop in Trieste, where they have the International Centre of Theoretical Physics (ICTP), three scientists volunteered to help over the course of three weekends. As the line between the light and the shadow in Lapland is always changing, we needed to calculate an equation which would understand how high the artificial sun would need to be in order to reflect the light best. The first prototype was subsequently created during a residency at Pollinaria in Abruzzo, however a non-flying version. I travelled from Italy to the Meteorology Department at the University of Helsinki in Finland to study the arctic climate, its temperature, wind speed and humidity, to understand which materials could be incorporated in the artificial sun design and which plastics. Two later prototypes flew away due to the wrong plastics being used, which became brittle in the minus forty-degree atmosphere».

Multiple suns in the sky

Uzunovski wishes for the participants in the project, whether as an active member in its creation or as a passive member of the visiting public, to reflect on their relationship with the natural environment, its exploitation over the years and what are our realistic expectations for the future. Is it possible to consider a future which respects our natural resources? Uzunovski continued to develop My Sunshine with workshops involving students from varying schools «At the University of Lapland we developed the first flying prototypes. This was the time when crowdsourced projects started to take form via the internet; a new method of culture creation in the art scene. In the early 2000s there was an influx of Relational Art, where the audience would interact and become a part of the project. With this informal group, of mainly students, we wanted to realize not a commercial product, rather a type of utopia. If one prototype of the artificial sun works then we can proceed to multiply and create several artificial suns in the sky. The image of multiple suns becomes a metaphor for the possibility to change the global economics from energy based on carbon fuels to energy based on renewable sources. We are offering a glimpse into the future of how we as humans could be creating energy in a sustainable manner».The artist participated in City Move, a relocation project organized by the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation (SVID), «The project called for hundreds of people from around the world into this interdisciplinary group, artists, engineers, architects and social scientists, to propose how to move and relocate two cities and its inhabitants from northern Sweden as they were at risk of collapse, due to being situated above mines. Everyone was contributing with utopian ideas, therefore we also introduced My Sunshine as a potential feature of these future cities of Lapland. We worked with local high school students to propose a brighter future for these new spaces and societies».

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My Sunshine Venice, 2009

How to create an artificial cloud

When the artist later moved to Thailand, his work continued to prompt a dialogue between the natural environment and man’s needs. He noted that the residents had the «opposite problem to the Nordic countries, that there is too much sun. Instead of more, they want less. In this case, we worked on creating an artificial cloud. The structure consisted of a hot air balloon, with several layers, the bottom layer was white to resemble a cloud, inside there was a black layer of plastic to absorb the light, and the third layer was transparent to let the sun in and keep the heat inside».

How much does it cost to build an artificial sun

An artificial sun is not cheap. To put into perspective similar projects, the mountain installation in the Italian town of Viganella had a price tag of €99.900, approximately €540 per resident, and The Weather Project by Eliasson was funded as part of the £4.4 million Unilever Series sponsorship deal at the Tate. Uzunovski’s installations took years to take shape as he gradually received support. The development of the solar projects progressed from initial sketches and equations on paper to mobile flying prototypes. During his years at art school, supported by scholarships, he received study grants from Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa and the Ministry of Culture of Republic of Macedonia. In 2007, Uzunovski was the winner of the Young European Artist Trieste Contemporanea Award, and with the prize was able to launch the first stage of My Sunshine. The winner is given the opportunity of conceiving and developing a show at Studio Tommaseo in Trieste and have an accompanying monographic catalogue published. «The My Sunshine project became viral, talked about through all forms of the media» says Uzunovski. Universities were able to provide not only funding but also, in the case in Scandinavia, facilities and materials were made available to the project. At the Venice Biennale, Uzunovski was granted funding from Macedonia’s Ministry of Culture, the Federico Luger Gallery (FL Gallery, Milan) and sponsors in the form of Italian engineering companies. In addition to funding, the sponsors supplied the shipping container which hosted the exhibition. Over the years in order to self-finance the continued development of his solar installations, Uzunovski has sold, via galleries or at art fairs, photographs and videos. These pieces of documentation are proof of concept, the utopian idea and the realistic possibilities are for sale.

Can art and science go together?

Uzunovski continues his interdisciplinary research, developing the environmental projects into larger scale pieces and contemporarily pursues his works aimed at internet culture. Having started art school in the beginning of the millennium, Uzunovski became aware of the internet’s evolution and immediate growth. The artist noted that this technology and tool was once rarely used or with fear, now the internet has an indispensable role in the everyday, from the essential to the banal. Uzunovski recounts how he felt obliged to comment on the omnipotence of the internet and the need for its users to think in a more critical manner. «I reverse the role of artist and spectator, I pose the question for others to ask themselves and to think critically of their environment». The dialogue between art and science will advance with the introduction of new technologies, and as Uzunovski hopes, as demonstrated in his artworks, man will invest in sustainable methods and will take steps towards making a utopian future a reality.


Nikola Uzunovski

(1979, Belgrade) is a visual artist, who lives and works in Skopje, North Macedonia. Uzunovski attended the Naples Academy of Fine Arts, followed by a Master’s degree at IUAV University of Venice. His primary art projects include My Sunshine, winner of the 2007 Young European Artist Prize awarded by the Comitato Trieste Contemporanea, Solar Clouds, Solar Kitchens and What are you waiting for?. Uzunovski has exhibited projects and hosted workshops at the 53° Venice Biennale, Greenwashing at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in Florence and Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Poland.