Adelaide Fringe | The Magic behind Borealis

KIDDO writer Carla Caruso asked Swiss artist Dan Acher ‘all the questions’ about the magical installation, BOREALIS, lighting up Adelaide Fringe hub Gluttony.

WORDS: Carla Caruso

Always wanted to see the Northern Lights (or aurora borealis)? Well, you can … back by popular demand right here in Adelaide!

The Northern Lights, of course, refers to the natural phenomenon whereby shafts of coloured light can be seen, for a short time, in the night sky. Ordinarily, you have to travel to places like Iceland or Alaska to catch it.

But thanks to Swiss artist Dan Acher, the marvel’s been recreated in an installation at Adelaide Fringe hub Gluttony. Dubbed BOREALIS, it uses high-power laser beams to create the illusion, accompanied by an atmospheric soundtrack.

It’s an observational experience. Patrons enter at 15-minute intervals and can choose how long they spend in the installation space, which surrounds Rymill Park’s lake.

KIDDO reviewer and writer Carla Caruso spoke to Dan about how the magic’s created.

borealis adelaide fringe

Hi, Dan. How do you begin designing a light installation like this? Tell us a bit about the process involved.

I always start with the experience, the emotion I want to convey. I had an idea about recreating the Northern Lights anywhere in the world for a long time.

The trigger was when I was asked to come up with an installation for a 200m by 100m public space. I had done large-scale installations before, but on such a space, anything would have looked and felt very small.

I started to look for the technology I’d need, and confirmed it was possible. When I got the ‘go’ to create the piece, I travelled to Germany, and with a team of laser experts, we locked ourselves in a warehouse for DAYS until I was happy with the effect.

Turning it on for the first time, at the final location, was a shock. I had goosebumps and knew this was something special. The real-life tweaking happened there and is still an ongoing process at each location, refining the technology to deliver the most beautiful experience.

How many laser beams are used, and what range of colours?

This is completely dependent on the location. Even though the most common ones are green, we decided to go for the full scale of colours Northern Lights offer in the wild. That makes it even more special.

What was the trickiest part of creating the installation?

The trickiest part and the beauty of this artwork is that it depends entirely on the weather. Temperature, wind, and humidity makes it so that BOREALIS is ever-changing. So, we have to be ready for changes in these parameters all the time to make sure the effect works best.

What can go wrong during an event? How much ‘behind the scenes’ maintenance is involved?

The technology is very secured, so there’s no danger to it whatsoever. One problem could be if the power went down and we’d need to restart the whole system or if the wind started to blow too hard, blowing away the haze we create.

Why do you think people respond so well to light installations like these, the world over?

At least for BOREALIS, I believe people, wherever they are from, respond to the beauty of nature and things that seem magical or bigger than life. And that’s one of the goals of most of my artworks: to create spaces where strangers come together and connect beyond their differences. When we come together and share those feelings of awe, whatever separates us disappears, and we’re simply here experiencing our shared humanity.

Borealis Adelaide Fringe


Dates: Tuesday 8 March – Sunday 20 March

Venue: Rymill Park Lake at Gluttony – Rymill Park/Mullawirraburka, Cnr East Tce & Rundle Rd, Adelaide, SA

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