Salmon Waves

Hiram Chittenden Locks
Seattle, WA

Funding Source: 4Culture of King County and Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs

Salmon Waves celebrates the (largely invisible) improvements made to the Locks to increase the survival rate of young smolt migrating downstream to Puget Sound and the ocean.

Seagulls, herons, sea lions, sailboats, yachts, barges, and fascinating feats of engineering make the "Ballard Locks" a favorite venue for tourists and locals alike. It is easy, however, to overlook the overarching importance of water, tumbling from the Cascades and flowing into Puget Sound, and the migrations of salmon from freshwater streams to ocean and back.

The migrating salmon are fleeting and transitory; images of swimming smolt are generated by single rows of LED lights and digital electronics. The smolt migrate nocturnally; the fish images are visible only at night. And there is a bit of mystery about the rows of blue lights and what they do -- even people who visit at night sometimes need to be shown how to see the fish.

The roaring sound of water crashing over the spillway provides the auditory experience for the artwork.

Sorey likes to make his artworks self-explanatory in some ways: the story of how the waves were constructed is told by the 3,000 screws fastening the pieces together, and a peek inside the structures through gaps between the metal sides reveals the lack of internal structure.

An angle grinder was used to apply texture to the surface, creating a watery, three-dimensional appearance in sunlight. The stainless steel picks up color from the surrounding environment which changes constantly with the time of day and the season.

Sorey enjoys inventing tools that facilitate the artmaking process: he wrote his own 3-D computer software to aid in design and construction of these and other artworks.