Sydney beach like none other: a plastic sea of 1.1 million balls
Deep inside Barangaroo, under 12,000 cubic metres of rock, grass and trees, is a beach made from 1.1 million plastic balls.
Anyone can swim here, immersed in a vast monochromatic sea of translucent white orbs for Sydney Festival event The Beach. Just empty your pockets first.
Ben Porto, from Snarkitecture, the New York art and architecture collective who created the installation, says it is a paean to the quintessential summertime activity.
"Jump in, swim around or just lie on top for that contemplative floating on water feeling," he says. "The balls are like water in that they hold you but also it's hard to walk through quickly. We say be crazy in it."
The Beach, which champions visitors submerging themselves in art, is distinctly sea-like. Flinging yourself in is joyous, with a soft, splashy landing but, like falling into water, you need to "swim" to get out. Children wriggle and fling their bodies in a blissful bathe.
"Once the people start getting in this stark monochromatic space they bring the colour," Porto says. "The colour is the user."
Built to emulate Sydney's cove beaches, the installation, which is 60 metres long, gently sloping and edged by mirrored walls is free and open to all ages. At its deepest the balls reach one metre.
After hugely popular incarnations at the National Building Museum in Washington DC and Amalie Arena in Tampa Florida, transporting The Beach to Australia was a simple but mammoth exercise.
The 1.1 million polyethylene balls, originally manufactured by a toy company in South Carolina, were shipped to Sydney in 1500 cardboard boxes.
"They're made from antimicrobial plastic, they're germ-free and really easy to clean up," Porto says.
There are a few rules. No food or drink. Shoes are best left off. And consider emptying pockets before diving in as lost objects will not be returned until January 30.
When a record-breaking 160,000 people visited The Beach in Washington in 2015 an unexpectedly huge collection of shoes, sunglasses, FitBits, clothes, scarves, hats and nearly 100 mobile phones were lost in the balls.
"We've had people proposing in there and, one time, there was a flash wedding," Porto says. "They suddenly turned up and had this quick ceremony in the balls."
In Washington an engagement ring was lost and, days later, found and, over weeks, dropped phones moved unseen from one end of the installation to the other, as tracked by phone-finding apps. Precisely US$433.24 ($592.53) in loose change was discovered when the balls were packed away.
Snarkitecture, who formed in 2008 and draw their name from Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of The Snark, seek to challenge people's expectations in architectural spaces and sculptural objects, for museums, festivals, performance works and retail spaces.
One work, titled Dig, featured the collective digging their way through a massive block of expanded polystyrene with chisels and pick axes to make a cavelike interior. Another, Drift, was made from hundreds of white sausage-like inflatable vinyl tubes bundled around the Design Miami Pavilion at Art Basel.
"Everyone just assumes where there's a ball-pit involved that children will wee in it," Porto says. "But, perhaps by virtue of it being an art installation, no errant liquids are found beneath the balls."
The Beach is at the Cutaway, Barangaroo Reserve, Hickson Road entrance, Barangaroo, January 7-29, sydneyfestival.org.au