David Medalla / The Philippines/United Kingdom b.1942 / Cloud Canyons No.25 1963/2015 / Plexiglass tubing, motor pumps, porous stones, wood, water, detergent / Six tubes: 300 x 20cm (diam.), 250 x 20cm (diam.), 200 x 20cm (diam.), 150 x 20cm (diam.), 100 x 20cm (diam.), 50 x 20cm (diam.); basin: 200cm (diam.) / Purchased 2014. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane / © David Medalla

David Medalla
Cloud Canyons No. 25 1963–2015

Not Currently on Display

David Medalla’s Cloud Canyons No.25 1963/2015 is one of the artist’s many kinetic ‘Bubble Machine’ sculptures. It produces a continuous cycle: water combines with soap to create foam, and then the foam slowly rises through the tubes, oozes outwards, puddles, and eventually evaporates. Guided by the intangible forces of temperature, gravity, atmospheric pressure and humidity, the sculpture is extremely unpredictable.

While driven by artistic and scientific objectives, Medalla’s foam sculptures are also inspired by a complex combination of personal memories. These include the foaming of coconut milk as his mother cooked guinataan; the clouds over Manila Bay as well as those he saw above the Grand Canyon on his first trip to the United States; a visit to a soap factory in Marseilles; and the head of a glass of beer in Edinburgh.

David Medalla is an important figure in the development of installation, kinetic and participatory art. His practice deconstructs the idea of sculpture as solid, timeless and monumental by creating objects and situations that are unrepeatable and continuously changing.

In 1963, Medalla began to produce what would become his signature works: ‘Bubble Machines’, or auto-creative sculptures. He describes these machines as way to give ‘tangible form to invisible forces . . . to find a model which would show the transformation of matter into energy’.1 Medalla’s first bubble machines were generated from plinth-like boxes, but later versions feature clear plexiglass tubes.

Endnotes:

1 Interview with David Medalla by Rasheed Araeen, 1979, quoted in Guy Brett, Exploding Galaxies: The Art of David Medalla. Kala Press, London, 1995, p.52.

Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think the artist chose tubes of different heights for this sculpture?

2. Medalla’s work challenges the traditional idea of sculpture as timeless. How is this represented in Cloud Canyons No.25? Does the continuous cycle and changing state of the foam create a sense of time within the work?

3. How does Medalla’s Cloud Canyons No.25 continually create bubbles?

Activities

1. Draw Cloud Canyons No.25 as it appears during your visit. Complete a second drawing that predicts how the sculpture will change and look like in 24 hours’ time. Compare your prediction with others.

2. Add a few drops of food colours to a mixture of soap and water. Using a straw or bubble wand, blow bubbles onto paper so that they pop. Once dry, add marks to your paper to create your own interpretation of the phrase ‘cloud canyons’.

3. Medalla’s ‘Bubble Machines’ were conceived as a response to the auto-destructive sculptures of Polish artist Gustav Metzger (1926–2017). Produce an artwork that adheres to one or more of the principles of auto-destructive art.

4. Experiment using foam as a medium. Create a sculpture that expresses a personal memory and document your work as it evaporates. Reflect on this process.