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cyanometer a large blue rectangle structure stands in a field

Cyanometer; A Monument to the Blue of the Sky


An imposing monolith reflects and records the color of the sky, inviting a rethinking of its properties and poetics...

Simultaneously an artwork and a scientific instrument, Cyanometer, by Slovenian artist Martin Bricelj Baraga, speaks in multiple languages of the vault of the sky. It invites viewers to wonder why it is blue and then includes along with that all of the aesthetic, ecological and scientific implications that result from this seemingly simple question.

Inspired by the cyanometer of Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, a circular instrument invented in 1789 and which once measured the blue of the sky based on a scale of some 53 distinct tones, Baraga’s Cyanometer is a glass and steel monolith more than three meters high. A central element at the top is a circle similar to the old cyanometer. With a hole in the center, it’s a sort of geometric (and unexpectedly ritualistic) icon which invites viewers to gaze up to the sky.

cyanometer against a cloudy sky

At first glance it might be but a minimalist sculpture; a large mirror that reflects on everything around it. But Cyanometer systematically registers, through a camera, the blue of the sky, then codifies them in accordance with the same 53 tones established by Saussure. It then posts an update to the internet site. In a beautifully simple and organic way, the work (occupying a space somewhere between art and science) changes color, continually mimicking its surroundings.
Cyanometer is part of a series, called Nonument, of futuristic, utopian installations the artist has placed in public spaces. So far, Baraga has installed two of the cyanometers in Europe. A first is on the main street in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and another is in Wroclaw, Poland. Both monoliths are connected to nearby air quality monitors. In addition to recording changes in the sky’s tone, they also measure the air temperature and levels of air pollution, indicating the polluting substances and their origins. (These can include traffic, wood burning in homes, and pollution from industrial activities, etc.)


The importance of a project like Cyanometer lies in its dual function. On the one hand, the information it draws makes an urgent call to pay attention to the sky and the air. It’s something we often forget (or simply neglect). But then again, the existence of such a huge monument, an impressive futuristic monolith dedicated to the vault of the sky, also draws on the tremendous number of metaphors on the sky, the color blue, and its many symbolisms. And after all, it’s a mirror in which heaven can see itself.


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