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Those numbers flying high over Berkeley? Pi in the sky

The numbers written by a sky-writing plane over Berkeley today were part of an art installation called Pi in the Sky. Photo: Carly

If you happened to look up at around 12:40 pm today and see lots of numbers being drawn in the sky  above Berkeley by a plane, you were witnessing what its creator describes as “the largest ephemeral installation ever created.”

“Pi in the Sky,” a Bay Area spectacle being put on by a team of synchronized skywriters, is part of the Zero1 Biennal, a Silicon Valley-based art gathering, and shows pi, 3.14159 and so forth a thousand places being painstakingly depicted in the sky.

The man behind the display is UC Berkeley science graduate ISHKY, a California-born artist whose goal, he says, is to is “to flirt with provocation and inspire spontaneous awe.”

The line of quickly dissipating numbers certainly confounded some of the people on the ground who saw them. Berkeleysider Carly spotted them while walking her dog at Ohlone Dog Park. She sent us the photo above with a question: just what was the plane’s writing trying to say?


“It didn’t seem like a phone number because the numbers just kept going and going, seemingly without repeating, but then again, by the time the planes wrote the fourth number, the first number was faded,” she wrote.

According to the Pi In The Sky Facebook page, the project aims to explore the boundaries of scale, public space, permanence, and the relationship between Earth and the physical universe. The project uses dot-matrix skywriting technology to print quarter-mile tall numbers at 10,000 feet altitude.

“The fleeting and perpetually incomplete vision of Pi’s never-ending random string unwinding in the sky will create a gentle provocation to the Bay Area’s 7 million inhabitants,” the statement reads. “Pi In the Sky will also be the largest physical expression of Pi ever created.”

The letters were scheduled to appear over 12 Bay Area cities, starting in San Jose at 1:45 am and taking in Fremont, Oakland, and Mountain View, as well as Berkeley and others. The project was running a little late, however, and Berkeleyside was given barely any notice — just a tweet at 12:40pm saying: “Pi-Some! @IshkyStudios tweeted that his #piinthesky is flying now! Go outside and LOOK UP!”.

The second part of Pi in the Sky involves launching a satellite into space to orbit the earth, transmitting a constant stream of Pi back down to us. For more information on ISHKY, who has been working on projects of similar scale for more than 25 years, visit his website.


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