Inside “Written on the Wind,” NHMU installation by Wendy Wischer 

December 17 2019
Photo | Amelia Walchli Photo | Amelia Walchli

As part of the Natural History Museum of Utah’s current exhibition “Nature All Around Us,” associate professor in the Department of Art & Art History, Wendy Wischer’s multi-sensory installation “Written on the Wind”  immerses visitors in nature using sound, projected video, animation and sculptural clouds. Traveling through a 24 hour sequence in 24 minutes, the viewer takes a journey through the cycle of moving from light into darkness and darkness into light.

In the project’s abstract, Wischer wrote, “ This installation attempts to capture fragments of how nature makes us feel, fragments of the joy and curiosity often felt when experiencing nature and the restorative effects this provides. A place where our stories are ‘written on the wind’ that circles the planet continuously and creates connective threads that weave a journey both individual and shared.”

The original inspiration for the installation came through collaboration with two different classes of 4th graders at Salt Lake City’s Riley Elementary, facilitated by Kerri Hopkins, director of the University of Utah’s ArtsBridge program. Beginning as most artists and scientists do, with observation, Wischer and the students collected ideas about nature. Next, they took the words they had first written down and transformed them into drawings and poetry.

Wischer collected video footage from all over the state to be projected on spiral walls that would fully encompass visitors. The curvature of the space proved challenging for video mapping, but this snail-like design allows for complete immersion in the natural environment.  "In the exhibition, my installation comes after the sections on the physical and mental health benefits of nature. This also inspired the intention to create a meditative space where viewers could slow down and contemplate their inner and outer environments,” Wicher explained.

Sound design was another essential component of the space. Wischer said, “I hired two composers, Michael Wall from the School of Dance and Austin Booth from Engineering, to create music and musical stems for the piece specifically around sunrise, sunset, moonrise and deep space. I also used musical stems from a few other composers for other segments of the 24-hour composition which also includes a variety of nature sounds I recorded in different locations while capturing video footage.”

She engaged several other members of the University of Utah community in making the installation successful. Sculpture Intermedia students, Kelly Goff and Emily McMurray, asssisted in sewing covers for the cloud bean bags.  John Mack, Technical Director of Pioneer Theatre Company, was the main fabricator of the spiral room assisted by other PTC team members, Roger Goeckeritz, and Sculpture Intermedia MFA student, Dana Hansen. Wischer even enlisted MFA alumni, Keith Beard, for brochure design. 

You can take refuge in Wischer’s installation until May 25th, and you won’t want to miss it. “I have been able to observe visitors experiencing the installation which ranges from a quiet peacefulness to joyous expressions of awe.” (Some of these visitors are the very students from Riley that helped begin the project, now returning as 5th graders. Wischer personally invited them so they could see how far their work had come!)

“Expressions of awe and wonder, when referring to experiences with nature, have been written about over and over. And now, we are seeing scientific evidence of how nature alters our physical and emotional states making us feel more relaxed, more thoughtful, more creative and more kind to others,” Wischer wrote.

Go see for yourself. 

Nature All Around Us 
through May 25, 2020
Natural History Museum of Utah | Open 7 days a week 10 am - 5 pm, until 9 pm on Wednesdays 
*University of Utah students, faculty and staff with valid ID get in free on Saturdays!