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Hiorns foam sculpture
Hiorns foam sculpture

Roger Hiorns, A retrospective view of the pathway © Heidi Zeiger Photography

At exactly noon, the fans start. Children and their adult minders abandon the fountains, information and ticketing booths, shops, and shaded benches of Navy Pier, Chicago's foremost tourist attraction, to gather in giddy anticipation. Housed in industrial yellow casings and mounted atop two enormous stainless steel cylinders that gleam in the midday sun, the fans begin to spill a light froth, as though the crests of waves off Lake Michigan are being fed through their blades. As the foam builds within the cylinders, the crowd's excitement rises.

"Oh, here it goes!" a man shouts, as brilliantly sparkling foam crests the lip of the cylinders. Children drum on the sides, coaxing the foam out, and with one powerful gust of wind from the south, the art installation — A retrospective view of the pathway by British artist Roger Hiorns — does its job, releasing chaotic whimsy in the form of a cloud of foam that falls upon the children to shrieks of joy. They grasp at it and chase the fluffy, sudsy remnants before turning their attention to the next blob, which looks to be even bigger than the first. One girl turns and struts away, proudly holding a large globule on, and in, her arms.

The sculpture looks cheerily industrial, and Hiorns would be heartened to see the reaction to his fun machine. Whether in its original location in France, or installed in Austin, or now Chicago, wherever the foam starts flowing, youngsters (and the young at heart) seem to materialize.

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