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Exclusive international exhibition to include Austin artist’s innovative work

Clay Odom’s Flowering Phantasm shows off the city’s love of highly technical and interdisciplinary experimentation

Optic-cable looking fibers covering a sphere with gold structures underneath
Flowering Phantasm by Clay Odom
Courtesy of the City of Austin Economic Development Department’s Cultural Arts Division

Austin joined an exclusive international group in 2015, becoming the first and only U.S. city to receive a “City of Media Arts” designation from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).

Now, the capital city has scored another international first on that front: the work of a locally based artist will be part of an UNESCO exhibition of new media works from around the world.

In late April, University of Texas at Austin Assistant Professor Clay Odom will multimedia installation Flowering Phantasm will be part of the “Data City” exhibition in the Paris suburb of Enghien-les-Bains, France. The show will take place in conjunction with the 11th Annual Meeting of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

“Media Arts” cities include Tel-Aviv Jaffa, Dakaar, Gwangju, Linz, Lyon, Sapporo, York, and Enghien-les-Bains.

The City of Austin’s Cultural Arts Division, which manages the UNESCO designation, invited the artist to represent Austin in the exhibition with his 6' x 10' interactive sculpture. The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture and the UTSOA Interior Design Program supported and cooperated with the city on the project.

Initially exhibited at the 2016-2017 Amsterdam Light Festival, Flowering Phantasm is a pneumatic work, controlled by computer-driven systems and fabricated using computer-controlled machines—meant to represent the highly technical and interdisciplinary experimentation commonly practiced in Austin.

Designed by Odom’s studioMODO, with media and programming completed in collaboration with fellow Austinite Sean O’Neill, Flowering Phantasm is an intricate assemblage of 400 anodized gold, inflatable “petals” covered in more than 3,000 feet of LED fiber “hairs.”

The petals, which are “parametrically programmed with modeling software, expand and contract via an internal network of micro-blowers,” while more than 40 “individual LED light sources, controlled with an internal computer, illuminate the object from within.” Capturing external stimuli including movement, light, and sound, and the work engages and interacts with its environment, including people in its vicinity.

“This installation,” Odom explained in the release, “explores how work is conceptualized, designed, and fabricated in our contemporary world. The project is designed to provoke contemplation of the complex relationships between people, space, nature, and technology—as they are and as they can be—and hopefully produces a sense of wonder and delight in the process.”