Head in the clouds
LANDSCAPE DESIGNER ANDY CAO demonstrates how chicken wire and crystals are transformed into clouds in his "Bai Yun" garden at Cornerstone.
What would a dream, where the lines of reality and fantasy merge, look like if it came to life?
Decorated landscape designer Andy Cao explores this idea with his two new installations at Cornerstone Sonoma. Working with his design partner Xavier Perrot, Cao will unveil their creations at 5 p.m. Sunday, July 10.
"A lot of it is based on intuition and how we feel, that has always been our approach," Cao said. "So when you experience it, you feel it, you don't think 'What does this say?' It's a different way of storytelling."
Drawing on his Vietnamese heritage, Cao sought to create two modern interpretations of the classic Asian garden style. The result is an ethereal and whimsical display, shimmering with plenty of crystals.
The garden "Bai Yun," which means White Cloud, brings to life the rolling cloud shapes commonly depicted in Asian art. The designers created plumes of puffy clouds from chicken wire, which are mounted on poles allowing visitors to stand under the dreamy display. More than 5,000 cut crystals were individually hung from the wire, catching the light and casting rainbows across the ground.
"It's excessive, but in a nice way," Cao said of the crystals.
Even the ground looks like clouds, with hand-sculpted mounds covered in white cow bones and oyster shells. "It's changing the perspective of how we see things," Cao said, adding that the garden will change throughout the day. "The clouds in the early morning are different, in the fog it's different and under the moonlight it transforms again."
Cao's other exhibition, "Red Lantern," brings a visual exploration of the Chinese laborers who built the Western railroad system. The centerpiece of the design is a red silk lantern that is 12-feet-high and 18-feet-wide adorned with about 2,000 red cut crystals. It sits upon a man-made pond, which visitors can enter from a set of railroad tracks lined with lotus flowers.
"It's like looking into the mirror and seeing the past," Cao said, adding, "When you enter the lantern, it transforms into a Chinese head dress."
Cao and Perrot were joined by a team of young designers, including Christian Berman, 29, a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design; and Matt Moffitt, 20, a Penn State student studying landscape architecture.
In 2004, Cao designed the "Lullaby Garden" at Cornerstone, and was eager to return to the avant-garde design space. "We feel really blessed to be here because the setting is perfect but it's also a place where experimentation is encouraged," Cao said.
And that's exactly how the pair prefer to work. Throwing out traditional drawings, they approach a space with little more than an idea, a dream of what might be possible. They design in concert to find balance between the materials and the site.
"We leave lots of room for serendipity. It allows the flexibility to dream," Cao said. "We're not designing as much as describing an image, there's lots of room to play. Our approach is much more like an artists' approach, but we use landscape as a medium."
While many landscape designers approach a garden from a utilitarian perspective, Cao and Perrot want nothing more than to create a feeling, an impression, a moment.
"It's sort of like being a child again when you make things just because you're curious," Cao said. "We make it with our hands, it's not machine made, so there's lots of imperfections."
Cao and Perrot have been working together for 10 years and run Cao - Perrot Studio + PLACE with offices in Los Angeles and Paris. They have created installations in Texas, Washington, California and Paris, and in 2009 they won an international competition to design the 600-acre Guangming Central Park in Shenzhen, China. Each of the designers is also accomplished in his own right. Cao earned the 2010-11 Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design while Perrot earned the title of "Young Designer of the Year" from the French Ministry of Culture in 2008.
Cornerstone Garden is located at 25470 Arnold Drive and the gardens are open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cao will lead the opening tour of the new installations on Sunday, which is free to attend.
For more, visit www.cornerstonegardens.com.