Falon Mihalic’s sculpture charts the atmospheric forces that bind us.
By Zach Mortice
Windbloom, a 12-foot-high sculpture and pavilion under construction near Houston by the artist and landscape architect Falon Mihalic, will give physical form to ephemeral weather processes—specifically, which way the wind blows. The site-specific piece will map the direction of local wind, and its biomorphic qualities will reflect the vitality and energy of the Gulf Coast skies it surveys.
The artist chose the colors of the sculpture’s 30-foot-wide plantlike array of petals to indicate the average wind direction, measured over one year, in Alief, the Houston suburb where it will be located. “It’s really just about connecting people to the local climate in an expressive way,” Mihalic says.
The sculpture, surrounded by a native butterfly garden designed by SWA Group, will be part of a public park on the site of a new multipurpose community center with a library, gym, skatepark, and childcare facilities.
A shading device from the hot Texas sun, Windbloom is given structure by green steel tendrils. Petals made of resin and polycarbonate attach to five concentric rings. In the inner ring, the petals are small, measuring just 6.5 inches, but in the last ring they are four times as long. Each is made from a layer of colored UV-stable resin (to protect against fading) placed between layers of polycarbonate. The concrete plaza will be a canvas for the rainbow of colors that shines through each petal—a soft mix of purples, blues, greens, and yellows that are the backbone of Mihalic’s artistic palette.
Inside the community center will be a poster Mihalic designed of a meteorological tool called a wind rose that maps the average wind direction in a place over a period of time; the colors on each part of the circular diagram indicate wind direction. Using data pulled from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Mihalic averaged the directions in Alief and applied the result to the sculpture, flipping the color from a default teal to yellow, green, or purple to indicate changes in direction.
“When you read [the poster] left to right—January through April, May to August, September to December—you can see that these are almost like stills from an animation,” Mihalic says. “They’re these frozen moments in time.” Translating the wind rose to the sculpture is a “way of dating the piece in a climate timeline.”
Mihalic sees Windbloom as a way to focus people’s vision on the Gulf Coast sky, where the immaterial can become dramatic and volatile. Often, she says, prevailing winds carry moisture from the Gulf of Mexico that stacks up into massive anvil clouds that flatten before it storms. But the wind directions Windbloom depicts also reference less-common phenomena. In the spring and summer, trade winds bring dust from the Sahara 5,000 miles away, a portion of the 100 million tons of dust that leaves Africa by air. In addition to creating a soupy haze that lowers visibility, the dust also downgrades Houston’s already terrible air quality. Connecting distant corners of the world through the wind “seems like a simple, harmless idea, but it’s not, because connecting to the wind is connecting us to particulate matter coming from the Sahara dust plume,” Mihalic says. “It connects us to harmful and beautiful ideas simultaneously.”
And sometimes the harmful and beautiful things the wind brings us are one and the same. A sunset when Saharan dust fills the sky, Mihalic says, “sometimes looks like we’re on a distant planet.” At other times, the sky is filled with “tufts of cotton candy that are shifting…to being in flames.” It’s a tableau that will undoubtedly look fantastical from the Windbloom viewing oculus, as sunset purples and pinks radiate through particles of dust from a world away, and through Mihalic’s sculpture, which can only be of its place.