A huge part of eating out at a restaurant is the atmosphere. Another involves getting out of the elements—nothing is better than eating a bowl of ramen in a darkened room and staring out at the snow, or a scoop at an old-timey ice cream parlor on a hot summer’s day. Multimedia immersion artist David Shearing flips such notions on their head with The Weather Café, an “immersive, digitally responsive cafe.” Located in Leeds City Centre, this artful eatery's interior atmosphere responds and changes to the outside weather.
With The Weather Café, Shearing, who has been making multimedia artworks for the past 10 years, wanted to create a space of contemplation and reflection. More than that, he wanted to bring the weather indoors to help us to understand our relationship to our environment.
“The magic of art for me is its ability to transport the audience, to offer different ways of experiencing the world, to see it anew,” Shearing tells The Creators Project. “This is very much a controlled experience of weather in order to create a compelling atmosphere, although some visitors did get a little wet.”
The Weather Café grew out of his past installation The Weather Machine, which put audiences inside a large black box with its own weather conditions. But Shearing also credits artist J.W.M. Turner’s paintings, which feature vortices of air, sky, and land, for inspiring him to create powerful immersive experiences. He also cites Antony Gormley’s Blind Light exhibit, in which he created a cloud of vapor inside a glass box, as particularly compelling in this regard.
A variety of techniques were used to create the theatrical atmospheric effects in The Weather Café, whose floor is blanketed in grass. Shearing hooked a pendant chandelier up to light sensor that made the sculpture shimmer as the ambient light outside changed. Depending on wind speed (measured using a weather station outside the shop), small desk fans automatically turned on and off. The haze was randomly controlled so that, as Shearing explains, the space could become its own microclimate, but one inspired by the current conditions.
“It was quite magical when the branches on the trees moved and you felt a light breeze move past,” Shearing says. “When the humidity picked up the rain would fall from the lampshades.”
The digital elements were made in collaboration with artists James Bulley and Daniel John Jones. Bulley wrote a generative sound score, composed into six general states, each of which were triggered by a set of conditions occurring at once.
“This meant the sound would be different depending on the overall type of day it was,” Shearing explains. “Daniel is the coding wizard, he custom wrote the triggering code in Python generated from the weather station outside to control the DMX and sound elements.”
“I wanted to question the mood of the city, to take a snapshot of the emotional climate of Leeds,” he adds. “I recorded the voices of over 100 people, whose fragmented stories became part of the composition.”
As Shearing’s first public art installation, The Weather Café is certainly unique, unexpected, and perhaps even a little odd considering that buildings are structures meant to keep the elements out. But maybe Shearing is on to something in supposing that we as humans, through our various types of architecture, have disconnected ourselves from the outside world. Shearing also says there's an interpersonal element to the The Weather Café that should not be ignored.
“Ultimately, I wanted guests to stop, to take a moment out from their day-to-day lives, to think about their relation to others,” says Shearing. “Weather is a metaphor to help us understand how transient and fragile our feelings are.”
Click here to see more work by David Shearing.