While airship construction is not generally within the purview of media artists, a recent project by Karolina Sobecka makes a compelling case for floating personalized weather modification devices up towards the stratosphere. The Cloud Machine is a composite weather balloon and rudimentary cloud seeding apparatus that can create small clouds and make subtle alterations to the atmosphere in the process.
The Cloud Machine's primary payload is a microcontroller-based device that disperses Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN), heat and water vapour once the balloon has reached an appropriate altitude. CCN is particulate that helps aid the formation of clouds as water requires a non-gaseous surface to transition from vapour to a liquid. So, as the Cloud Machine floats upwards it emits the ingredients for micro-cloud formation and an attached photo-rig documents the assembly's handiwork over the course of the flight. The cloud seeding and photo-rig are both encased in sturdy/insulated containers with labels that read "harmless scientific experiment – reward if found" and a prompt to contact Sobecka when the device descends back to earth after a mission. This project is exciting for a number of reasons: First, it taps into a long history of weather modification and nicely conflates the megalomania of those ventures with aesthetic pursuits (after all, what is more artistic than hacking the sky?). Second, the scale of the device and the relationship that a hypothetical owner might have with it speaks to personal environmental stewardship. Finally, it is tremendously refreshing to see an artist tackle the unmanned aerial vehicle trope and so capably construct a unique narrative without resorting to vapid sensationalism – perhaps drones aren't the only game in town.