2011, Sittingbourne, UK / Sydney, Australia         

Sleepers Awake

Fabric, helium, light rig, 12 x 12 x 12 m

First commissioned by Artlands, North Kent, 2011
Restaged by Museum of Modern Art, Sydney, Australia, 2014

Supported by the Homes and Communities Agency through Parklands, Arts Council England, Kent County Council, Swale Borough Council, and Greening the Gateway Kent and Medway
Partner in Sydney: Western Sydney Parklands Trust

As dusk fell in October 2011, the illuminated elliptical balloon form of Sleepers Awake appeared low in the sky, far off over the estuary at the mouth of Milton Creek in Sittingbourne. It shined bright in the night sky, a strange visitor emitting an unworldly light, sinking slowly below the skyline as dawn broke. It had no announcement and no publicity; it simply drew people in. Each successive evening, it rose higher in the sky, eventually reaching a height taller than a skyscraper, and each day it moved closer along the creek towards the town centre, tethered to an iron barge that made its way inland over the course of three weeks. For miles around, it was visible in the wide-open skies of north Kent; a beacon for what lay beneath. Each night, residents looked out to see its progress and made their way out of their homes, down to the creek, which had been transformed by this night sun, its cool glow redefining the hues and contours of this evocative stretch of post-industrial landscape. The stillness and quietness of the night heightened the visitors’ senses, inviting them to look again at their surroundings: the muddy undulating waters, the greened-over tips, and the town in the distance. People returned night after night, ideas were germinated, a place transformed and seen in a completely new way.

The artists produced the helium-filled sphere with hot-air-balloon specialists Cameron Balloons. It contained a bespoke high-powered lighting rig. Its official launch had to be delayed when the balloon was damaged by a freak gust of wind during a test flight and it had to undergo emergency repairs. Telegraph art critic Mark Hudson wrote about encountering the work when it was eventually launched. ‘As I hurried into the darkened country park, I was greeted by the rather magical sight of a great grey sphere hanging over the land – a dim, ghostly form that turned suddenly into a blazing white orb. The muddy reaches of the adjacent creek glowed silver, the miles of reed beds and stacks of discarded industrial plant irradiated by the plastic ball of light, tethered perhaps a hundred feet above the ground. The effect was like moving through intensely bright moonlight, tinted not silver but the yellow of daytime sunlight.’
When restaged by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney three years later, the presentation was accompanied by a programme of events by performers from across the city, gathered through an open call. People stayed in the surrounding parkland until sunrise, when the work descended back into its protective cradle to rise the following evening.


‘Large numbers of local people had been drawn by the light over the marshes. Indeed from the first moment the “sun” appeared two days before, people had been on the move towards it, jumping in their cars in their pyjamas to find out what was happening – which was exactly the effect the artists intended. Also present were crowds of youths. Ivan Morison told me that at first he feared the worst, “but they seemed to have an odd respect for it”.… The great globe of light, its webbed structure filled with powerful lamps designed for use in film, has the appearance of some fantastical Jules Verne contraption. The effect of the light on the nocturnal wasteland, with industrial flares and flames flashing on the horizon, evokes a visionary sense of English pastoral: the feeling of night and day occurring simultaneously seen in the works of Samuel Palmer. [It also] provides something more: a sense of temporary magic that a fixed and lasting work of art could never emulate.’

Mark Hudson, Telegraph

Photographers’ credits       

All images_ Ivan Morison

Love Me or Leave Me Alone        


Love Me or Leave Me Alone, The Very Public Art of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison presents a journey through the past decade and a half of the artists’ practice, with an emphasis on their pavilions, escape vehicles, and public artworks.  The book can be ordered from the publishers Art/Books
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If you can’t find the information you are looking for you can contact the studio of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison here: studio@peakmorison.org