A preview installation by John Grade

Murmur is a preview of an installation by artist John Grade that places visitors within an Arctic landscape through a combination of kinetic sculpture and mixed-reality holographic experience.

Murmur is based on Grade’s exploration of Arctic landforms called pingos — ice mounds rising from permafrost soil that grow over centuries on the tundra and then collapse, leaving scars on the land. Pingos historically served as landmarks and vantages for Inuit hunters and predators like wolves and polar bears. Their quantity has increased with climate change. Scientists study pingos using ground-penetrating radar and ice coring but understanding of the phenomenon remains limited.  

Grade will construct a sculpture of a pingo from salvaged Alaskan Yellow Cedar over steel ribs, and with hydraulic and pneumatic mechanical systems that will move change. The sculpture will stand 18 x 32 x 36 feet and will open and close in on itself mimicking a pingo’s lifecycle.

Using HoloLens technology, Grade will populate the sculpture’s interior and surrounding space with holograms. Holographic pools of water will populate the exterior; the sound of birds moving through the environment will correspond with animated flashes of their flight reflected in the pools.

The title Murmur evokes both the sound of Arctic wind and the shapes made by flocks of Arctic birds in flight. The installation will provide an experience in which people virtually enter and explore the interior of a pingo’s ice core and the unusual textures, flora and fauna of the landform.

The sculptural form is based on Grade’s photogrammetric scan of a pingo in Alaska’s Noatak National Preserve. Mixed reality will create an interactive experience, both visually and through spatialized sound, permitting visitors to “enter” a precise geographic location 80 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Murmur opens as a full installation at the Mystic Seaport Museum in January 2018. It will be on view at the Anchorage Museum May through September 2018 before traveling to other venues until it is permanently installed at the museum in 2020.


John Grade (American, born 1970 in Minneapolis, MN) lives and works in Seattle, WA. Inspired by changing geological and biological forms and systems in the natural world, John works with his studio team to create large-scale site-specific immersive sculptural installations. Impermanence and chance are often central to the work along with kinetics and relationships between the natural world and architecture.

Working with Grade is Reilly Donovan (American, born 1984 in Seattle, WA). Donovan is a new media artist and experience designer working with emerging technology to produce interactive installations, virtual reality artworks, augmented reality exhibits, and mixed-reality experiences. His work explores how computer simulations, machine learning, and interactive environments challenge the boundaries of our senses. It examines how machines are molding our future, changing our culture, and confronting our perceptions of reality.

The exhibition is jointly organized by the Anchorage Museum and Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea and co-curated by Julie Decker, Director/CEO of the Anchorage Museum, and Nicholas Bell, Senior Vice President for Curatorial Affairs at Mystic Seaport. Murmur.

Murmur video preview

During opening weekend, Grade will offer a preview of Murmur, demonstrating the Hololens technology and exhibiting small-scale works related to the final structure. Murmur will open at the Mystic Seaport Museum in January 2018, will be at the Anchorage Museum May – September 2018, travel to other venues, and then be permanently installed at the museum in 2020.

Read more about artist John Grade on our blog