Google’s New Immersive Show, Created With Artist Lachlan Turczan, Uses Sound and Light to Reflect on Our Connection With Water
'Shaped by Water' marks Google's third exhibition at Salone del Mobile Milano.
For a show designed to spotlight its latest hardware, Google’s new exhibition at Salone del Mobile Milano takes as its starting point a natural, fluid element.
“Shaped by Water,” which opens April 18 at Garage 21, is a multi-room immersive installation that dives deep into our connection with water. Co-created by Google Design Studio in collaboration with light and water artist Lachlan Turczan, the show invites viewers to experience water in all its optical and sonic qualities within a highly sensorial environment.
“We wanted to give guests a first-of-its-kind experience that reveals the hidden qualities of water when acted upon by sound and light,” Ivy Ross, Google’s vice president of hardware design, told Artnet News. “Water is easily recognized in its various forms, yet it has distinct and unique qualities that are not always evident—qualities that we caught glimpses of during our design process.”
It’s apt, then, that Google found a fellow traveler in Turczan, whose mediums for a decade have been water, light, and sound. Across his dynamic fountains and public sculptures, the L.A.-based artist has aimed to capture the “kinetic expression” of water as much as sculpt it with cymatics, a vibrational phenomenon.
“My goal for ‘Shaped by Water’ was to create novel experiences of water that challenge our understanding of this ubiquitous medium,” he told Artnet News. “Oftentimes, water is understood only in relation to its surroundings, but for this exhibition, I wanted to celebrate the unique materiality of water itself.”
To do so, Turczan and the Google team relied on what he called a “natural algorithm,” which goes: “Sound shapes water. Water shapes light. Light shapes perception.”
One of Turczan’s artworks at the exhibition, Sympathetic Resonance (2023), features shallow mirrored bowls holding pools of water. These shimmering sculptures emit a hum in response to a viewer’s proximity—thus illustrating the link between water and humans—which further creates wave patterns across the pools.
Another piece, titled Wavespace (2023), emerges from Turczan’s “long-held dream.” It invites audiences to recline on bespoke furniture, created by Google’s designers, and have their field of vision filled with water reflections. “The overall result is an integrated artwork,” he said, “where every element contributes to a cohesive experience—including scent!
Throughout the exhibition, viewers will also learn how water inspired the latest Google hardware designs, said Ross. “This includes videos that show how a drop of water served as the inspiration for the shape of our watch. Along with the focus on form, the products can be viewed through an array of flowers that reflect the seven color stories used across the hardware assortment,” she added.
“Shaped by Water” marks Google’s third exhibition at the Milan fair, following 2018’s “Softwear” and 2019’s “A Space for Being.” It’s all part of an effort to emphasize the design-first approach of Google’s hardware offerings—much like how the tech company has leaned into the arts to showcase its software.
“Because Google Hardware is a relatively new business, Salone gives us a chance to show up as thought leaders in design and share critical aspects of our creative process,” said Ross. “Through ‘Shaped by Water,’ we continue to share what’s on our mind by expanding on something we appreciate as designers—that the power of the natural world, whether easily seen or hidden below the surface, offers fresh ways to feed our imagination.”
For Turczan, the hope is that viewers, immersed as they are by the exhibition’s sound and light, might be similarly awakened to the presence and power of water.
“Much like the experience of staring into a fire or gazing up at the clouds, the natural phenomena of sound through water provides a visual stimulus that invites viewers to project themselves into the experience,” he said. “This is my favorite aspect of this work—creating opportunities that invite audiences to engage with their imaginations or to dream with open eyes.”
“Shaped by Water” is on view at Garage 21, Via Archimede, 26, Milan, Italy, from April 18–23.
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