For a few days in October, a ziggurat of mirrored boxes stood in Dasht-e Kavir, a desert in central Iran. The sculpture contained sensors, gears, and an Arduino processor that sensed changes in the temperature and the light, which caused the tower’s nine tiers to spin independently. This being the desert, a place of extremes, the sculpture did a lot of spinning. From any angle, at any time, looking at it was like gazing into a kaleidoscope of the surrounding landscape.

The sculpture was called Babel Tower, and it was the work of Italian designer Gugo Torelli, who programmed the electronics, and Iranian artist Shirin Abedinirad, who handled the mirrors. Before collaborating with Torelli on Babel Tower, Abedinirad installed a similar ziggurat in Sydney for the Underbelly Arts Festival. That project looked more like an optical illusion—as though a shard of blue sky had fallen into the grass. The earthy hues and gradients of the Iranian desert, when reflected in multitudes, create an entirely different effect. It’s like you can see the entire landscape at once.

Desert Gugo Torelli and Shirin Abedinirad

“We wanted to give a message of unity,” Torelli says. The Tower of Babel, if you need a refresher, appears in Genesis 11. The Biblical story describes an incredible collaboration: The people of the earth all spoke the same language, and decided to join forces and build a brick-and-tar tower where they could come together. As the story goes, the Lord sought to temper the power of the people to maintain control, so he made them all speak different languages. Although the people scattered to the far corners of the world and no longer shared a language, Tower of Babel even now is a symbol for a unified society.

Babel Tower—the mirrored one—still works, but its creators had to remove the installation shortly after installing it. “We are kind of independent artists,” Torelli says. In other words: “We didn’t have any authorization to install it there.” For now, the three-foot tower is stashed in Abedinirad’s room. They don’t have a plan for where to go next, but Torelli is experimenting with proximity sensors that would make the tower rotate in reaction to the people around it. That idea becomes especially interesting when Abedinirad throws out an idea for Babel Tower’s next destination: New York City.


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