“The largest canvas we have is the sky” –Otto Piene

 

Otto Piene rose to prominence in the late 1950s as a founding member of the ZERO Group in Germany. After joining the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS), first as a fellow (1968–74) and later director (1974–94), the artist embarked on a new trajectory, expanding his oeuvre in terms of material, scope, collaboration and participation. He continued to divide his time between the United States and Europe, forging lasting connections with artists of myriad fields and approaches along the way.

The CAVS program followed in the interdisciplinary footsteps of institutions such as the Bauhaus and Black Mountain College, as well as the program’s contemporary, Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). Its goal, like that of its predecessors, was to bring together creative thinkers and practitioners of all backgrounds in an effort to expand the possibilities of both art making and technological advancement. CAVS fellows included artists as diverse as Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, Yvonne Rainer, James Lee Byers and Peter Campus, and as CAVS’ director, Piene was at the epicenter of this creative outburst.

 

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Charlotte Moorman, Jerome Wiesner (President, MIT), Otto Piene and Nam June Paik at ArtTransition, CAVS/MIT, 1975.
Photo: Nishan Bichajian

American artist Charlotte Moorman came to The Juilliard School in New York to complete postgraduate work as a classical concert hall cellist, but was quickly drawn into the world of avant-garde performance. She founded the New York Avant Garde Festival (1963–80) and influenced countless artists, composers and musicians, including her friend and one-time roommate, Yoko Ono. Moorman became a fixture of international experimental art circles, primarily Fluxus, working closely with artists such as John Cage, Carolee Schneemann and, most famously, Nam June Paik.

After first meeting in Germany in the late 1950s, and then again in New York in the mid-1960s, Piene and Moorman developed a lifelong friendship and artistic collaboration that pushed at limits that neither artist could have surpassed on their own.

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Air Time – Group Exhibition

Charlotte Moorman, Jerome Wiesner (President, MIT), Otto Piene and Nam June Paik at ArtTransition, CAVS/MIT, 1975.
Photo: Nishan Bichajian

American artist Charlotte Moorman came to The Juilliard School in New York to complete postgraduate work as a classical concert hall cellist, but was quickly drawn into the world of avant-garde performance. She founded the New York Avant Garde Festival (1963–80) and influenced countless artists, composers and musicians, including her friend and one-time roommate, Yoko Ono. Moorman became a fixture of international experimental art circles, primarily Fluxus, working closely with artists such as John Cage, Carolee Schneemann and, most famously, Nam June Paik.

After first meeting in Germany in the late 1950s, and then again in New York in the mid-1960s, Piene and Moorman developed a lifelong friendship and artistic collaboration that pushed at limits that neither artist could have surpassed on their own.

 

“The way Charlotte played . . . one as a participant, two as a flying queen, that went into the sky and ‘played the audience’ as she played her cello.” –Otto Piene

In 1982, Piene invited Moorman to perform SKY KISS as part of the Sky Art Conference in Linz, Austria. Elevating the cellist meters above the ground, attached to luminous helium-filled tubular components, allowed Moorman’s improvised musical composition to float down over the audience. All SKY ART events, including SKY KISS, relied on a large community of up to two hundred active participants who worked together to propel Piene’s vision upward. The aspect of collaborative development and execution of his immense air sculptures was as crucial to the work as the final performance itself.

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene/Charlotte Moorman, SKY KISS, 1982, performed by Moorman, CAVS/MIT Sky Art Conference ’82, Ars Electronica, Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria.
Photo: Catherine Ikam

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene/Charlotte Moorman, SKY KISS, 1983, CAVS/MIT Sky Art Conference ’83, IGA Park, Seebühne, Munich. Pictured: Piene, Moorman, Elizabeth Goldring and Frank Pileggi.
Photo: Walter C. Dent

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene/Charlotte Moorman, SKY KISS, 1982, CAVS/MIT Sky Art Conference ’82, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria. Pictured: Joe Davis (center left), Moorman and cello (center) and Lowry Burgess (right, in white shirt).
Photo: Otto Piene Archive

Details
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene/Charlotte Moorman, SKY KISS, 1982, performed by Moorman, CAVS/MIT Sky Art Conference ’82, Ars Electronica, Brucknerhaus, Linz, Austria.
Photo: Catherine Ikam

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene/Charlotte Moorman, SKY KISS, 1983, CAVS/MIT Sky Art Conference ’83, IGA Park, Seebühne, Munich. Pictured: Piene, Moorman, Elizabeth Goldring and Frank Pileggi.
Photo: Walter C. Dent

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene/Charlotte Moorman, SKY KISS, 1982, CAVS/MIT Sky Art Conference ’82, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria. Pictured: Joe Davis (center left), Moorman and cello (center) and Lowry Burgess (right, in white shirt).
Photo: Otto Piene Archive

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In 1982, Piene invited Moorman to perform SKY KISS as part of the Sky Art Conference in Linz, Austria. Elevating the cellist meters above the ground, attached to luminous helium-filled tubular components, allowed Moorman’s improvised musical composition to float down over the audience. All SKY ART events, including SKY KISS, relied on a large community of up to two hundred active participants who worked together to propel Piene’s vision upward. The aspect of collaborative development and execution of his immense air sculptures was as crucial to the work as the final performance itself.

Otto Piene/Charlotte Moorman, SKY KISS, 1982, Sky Art Conference ’82, Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria
Video: Vin Grabill

 

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Luftprojekt, 1968, Sky Event at Staatlichen Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Karlsruhe, Germany.
Photo: Pe Wolf

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Hot Air Sculptures, 1969, Briggs Field, MIT, Cambridge, USA
Courtesy of MIT. Photo: Bob Lyon

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Windsock sculptures, 1969

Piene’s experiments with SKY ART had begun decades before his projects with Moorman. On May 22, 1968, on an athletics field at MIT, a team of interdisciplinary collaborators worked to lay out and inflate large polyethylene tubes with helium. The first manifestation of one of Piene’s signature artistic projects, which he called “Light Line Experiment,” rose steadily above the field. The ends of the partially translucent tubular structure were held down by the earth-bound audience, while the soaring curvature of the tubes took on the luminous colors of the infinite sky.

The following year, Piene created what he called Windsocks—forms that take on creature-like qualities as they move organically through the air, carried by gusts of wind.

Details
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Luftprojekt, 1968, Sky Event at Staatlichen Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Karlsruhe, Germany.
Photo: Pe Wolf

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Hot Air Sculptures, 1969, Briggs Field, MIT, Cambridge, USA
Courtesy of MIT. Photo: Bob Lyon

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Windsock sculptures, 1969

Details
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Piene’s experiments with SKY ART had begun decades before his projects with Moorman. On May 22, 1968, on an athletics field at MIT, a team of interdisciplinary collaborators worked to lay out and inflate large polyethylene tubes with helium. The first manifestation of one of Piene’s signature artistic projects, which he called “Light Line Experiment,” rose steadily above the field. The ends of the partially translucent tubular structure were held down by the earth-bound audience, while the soaring curvature of the tubes took on the luminous colors of the infinite sky.

The following year, Piene created what he called Windsocks—forms that take on creature-like qualities as they move organically through the air, carried by gusts of wind.

 

“When will our freedom be so great that we conquer the sky for the fun of it, glide through the universe, live the great play in light and space without being driven by fear and mistrust?” –Otto Piene

 

Otto Piene, Berlin Star, 1984, with performance by Charlotte Moorman as part of CAVS/MIT Desert Sun/Desert Moon, Lone Pine, CA, 1986.
Video: Vin Grabill

 

 

Piene’s SKY ART evolved further in the 1980s, expanding from inflatable sculpture to “flying architecture.” A prime example was his Berlin Star, a voluminous 15-meter-high star-form object with appendages reaching in every direction like a celestial body.

The architecture of Berlin Star included an interior cave-like structure that played host to Moorman in her collaborations with Piene during several SKY ART events, adding experimental music and live performance to the spectacle overtaking the sky and landscape.

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Berlin Star, 1984, Cocoon Concert performed by Charlotte Moorman as part of CAVS/MIT Desert Sun/Desert Moon, Lone Pine, CA, 1986.
Photo: Elizabeth Goldring

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Iowa Star, 1979, Cello Sonata by Mieko Shiomi performed by Charlotte Moorman at the CAVS 20th anniversary celebration, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA, 1988.
Photo: Walter C. Dent

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Berlin Star, 1984
Inflatable fabric sculpture
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the Technische Universität Berlin. Photo: Otto Piene Archive
 

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Berlin Star, 1984, Die Zukunft der Metropolen: Paris – London – Berlin, Ernst-Reuter-Platz, Berlin.
Courtesy the Technische Universität Berlin. Photo: Otto Piene Archive

Details
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Berlin Star, 1984, Cocoon Concert performed by Charlotte Moorman as part of CAVS/MIT Desert Sun/Desert Moon, Lone Pine, CA, 1986.
Photo: Elizabeth Goldring

Otto Piene, Berlin Star, 1984, Cocoon Concert performed by Charlotte Moorman as part of CAVS/MIT Desert Sun/Desert Moon, Lone Pine, CA, 1986.
Photo: Elizabeth Goldring

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Iowa Star, 1979, Cello Sonata by Mieko Shiomi performed by Charlotte Moorman at the CAVS 20th anniversary celebration, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA, 1988.
Photo: Walter C. Dent

Otto Piene, Iowa Star, 1979, Cello Sonata by Mieko Shiomi performed by Charlotte Moorman at the CAVS 20th anniversary celebration, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA, 1988.
Photo: Walter C. Dent

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Berlin Star, 1984
Inflatable fabric sculpture
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the Technische Universität Berlin. Photo: Otto Piene Archive
 

Otto Piene
Berlin Star, 1984
Inflatable fabric sculpture
Dimensions variable
Courtesy the Technische Universität Berlin. Photo: Otto Piene Archive
 

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Berlin Star, 1984, Die Zukunft der Metropolen: Paris – London – Berlin, Ernst-Reuter-Platz, Berlin.
Courtesy the Technische Universität Berlin. Photo: Otto Piene Archive

Otto Piene, Berlin Star, 1984, Die Zukunft der Metropolen: Paris – London – Berlin, Ernst-Reuter-Platz, Berlin.
Courtesy the Technische Universität Berlin. Photo: Otto Piene Archive

Details
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Piene’s SKY ART evolved further in the 1980s, expanding from inflatable sculpture to “flying architecture.” A prime example was his Berlin Star, a voluminous 15-meter-high star-form object with appendages reaching in every direction like a celestial body.

The architecture of Berlin Star included an interior cave-like structure that played host to Moorman in her collaborations with Piene during several SKY ART events, adding experimental music and live performance to the spectacle overtaking the sky and landscape.

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Berlin Star, 1984, CAVS/MIT Desert Sun/Desert Moon, Lone Pine, CA, 1986.
Photo: Elizabeth Goldring

 

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Nam June Paik in Miami, 1990
Courtesy the Estate of Nam June Paik. Photo: Brian Smith

 

Both Moorman and Piene also collaborated with Paik—one of the Fluxus movement’s key figures—on multiple projects and performances from the 1960s onward. Paik credited his encounter with Piene’s work (specifically his Lichtballett in Cologne in 1957) for his transition to working as a visual artist; and Paik and Moorman, each originally trained as classical musicians, gained renown for their performances that married Moorman’s body and cello-playing skills with Paik’s TV-based sculptural constructions.

Piene invited Paik and Moorman to CAVS as fellows and to give performances in the 1970s and 1980s, recognizing their experiments with music, art and technology to be uniquely suited to the program’s mission.

Details
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Nam June Paik in Miami, 1990
Courtesy the Estate of Nam June Paik. Photo: Brian Smith

 

Both Moorman and Piene also collaborated with Paik—one of the Fluxus movement’s key figures—on multiple projects and performances from the 1960s onward. Paik credited his encounter with Piene’s work (specifically his Lichtballett in Cologne in 1957) for his transition to working as a visual artist; and Paik and Moorman, each originally trained as classical musicians, gained renown for their performances that married Moorman’s body and cello-playing skills with Paik’s TV-based sculptural constructions.

Piene invited Paik and Moorman to CAVS as fellows and to give performances in the 1970s and 1980s, recognizing their experiments with music, art and technology to be uniquely suited to the program’s mission.

Paik produced several of his celebrated TV Cello sculptures—three television monitors encased in plexiglass and attached to a cello bridge, mounted to a base—which Moorman would play while live video feed emanated from the screens. These collaborations created enthralling visual and aural feedback loops and expanded the artistic possibilities of sculpture and new media alike.

When the original TV Cello (1971), previously owned by Piene, was accessioned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1992, Paik created a new version of the work—his first ever to use color televisions—gifting it to Piene and his wife, the artist and poet Elizabeth Goldring. As with other TV Cello sculptures, gestures and symbols appear on the surfaces of the transparent boxes in colorful acrylic paint, adding a playful, painterly quality to the objects’ technological components.

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Nam June Paik
First Color TV Cello,
ca. 1992
Mixed media
142 × 46.5 × 52 cm
56 × 18.3 × 20 1/2 inches

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Air Time – Group Exhibition

Nam June Paik/Charlotte Moorman, TV Cello, performance at CAVS/MIT Sky Art Conference ’82, Ars Electronica, Bruckner Haus, Linz, Austria, 1982.

Details
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Nam June Paik
First Color TV Cello,
ca. 1992
Mixed media
142 × 46.5 × 52 cm
56 × 18.3 × 20 1/2 inches

Nam June Paik
First Color TV Cello,
ca. 1992
Mixed media
142 × 46.5 × 52 cm
56 × 18.3 × 20 1/2 inches

Air Time – Group Exhibition
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Nam June Paik
First Color TV Cello, ca. 1992 (detail)

Nam June Paik
First Color TV Cello, ca. 1992 (detail)

Air Time – Group Exhibition
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Nam June Paik
First Color TV Cello, ca. 1992 (detail)

Nam June Paik
First Color TV Cello, ca. 1992 (detail)

Air Time – Group Exhibition
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Nam June Paik
First Color TV Cello, ca. 1992 (detail)

Nam June Paik
First Color TV Cello, ca. 1992 (detail)

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Nam June Paik/Charlotte Moorman, TV Cello, performance at CAVS/MIT Sky Art Conference ’82, Ars Electronica, Bruckner Haus, Linz, Austria, 1982.

Nam June Paik/Charlotte Moorman, TV Cello, performance at CAVS/MIT Sky Art Conference ’82, Ars Electronica, Bruckner Haus, Linz, Austria, 1982.

Details
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Paik produced several of his celebrated TV Cello sculptures—three television monitors encased in plexiglass and attached to a cello bridge, mounted to a base—which Moorman would play while live video feed emanated from the screens. These collaborations created enthralling visual and aural feedback loops and expanded the artistic possibilities of sculpture and new media alike.

When the original TV Cello (1971), previously owned by Piene, was accessioned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1992, Paik created a new version of the work—his first ever to use color televisions—gifting it to Piene and his wife, the artist and poet Elizabeth Goldring. As with other TV Cello sculptures, gestures and symbols appear on the surfaces of the transparent boxes in colorful acrylic paint, adding a playful, painterly quality to the objects’ technological components.

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene’s Charlotte, Etude C1, 1992, and Charlotte Moorman’s Wooden Cello, 1990, photographed in Otto Piene’s and Elizabeth Goldring’s home in Massachusetts.
Photo: Charles Mayer

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Etude C3, 1992
Tempera on Bütten paperboard
101.6 × 76.3 cm
40 × 30 inches

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Etude C2, 1992
Tempera on paperboard
101.5 × 76.1 cm
40 × 30 inches

Details
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene’s Charlotte, Etude C1, 1992, and Charlotte Moorman’s Wooden Cello, 1990, photographed in Otto Piene’s and Elizabeth Goldring’s home in Massachusetts.
Photo: Charles Mayer

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Etude C3, 1992
Tempera on Bütten paperboard
101.6 × 76.3 cm
40 × 30 inches

Otto Piene
Etude C3, 1992
Tempera on Bütten paperboard
101.6 × 76.3 cm
40 × 30 inches

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Etude C2, 1992
Tempera on paperboard
101.5 × 76.1 cm
40 × 30 inches

Otto Piene
Etude C2, 1992
Tempera on paperboard
101.5 × 76.1 cm
40 × 30 inches

Details
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Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene/Nam June Paik
Untitled, 1968
Manipulated television set and plastic pearls
22.9 x 33 x 25.4 cm
9 x 13 x 10 inches

Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Greenwich
Collection Ltd. Fund, and gift of Margot Ernst
© 2018 Estate of Nam June Paik

Formally reminiscent of the most basic inflatable object—the balloon—orbs also play a recurrent role in Piene’s practice. Spherical forms were a fixture in the artist’s work from his time with ZERO and appeared across an array of mediums, including in an early collaboration between Paik and Piene for a work conventionally referred to as the Pearl TV (1968).

Details
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene/Nam June Paik
Untitled, 1968
Manipulated television set and plastic pearls
22.9 x 33 x 25.4 cm
9 x 13 x 10 inches

Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Greenwich
Collection Ltd. Fund, and gift of Margot Ernst
© 2018 Estate of Nam June Paik

Details
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Formally reminiscent of the most basic inflatable object—the balloon—orbs also play a recurrent role in Piene’s practice. Spherical forms were a fixture in the artist’s work from his time with ZERO and appeared across an array of mediums, including in an early collaboration between Paik and Piene for a work conventionally referred to as the Pearl TV (1968).

Another prime example are the shimmering helium balloons in Piene’s Silver Balloon Event (1969), a happening that took place at the inauguration of Boston’s new City Hall. Not only do his spheres catch and reflect light, connecting outward to their environment, they are also reminiscent of natural, generative organisms, including cells, eggs, pearls and flowers.

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Silver Balloon Event, inauguration of new Boston City Hall, 1969
Photo: Leslie Larkin

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Untitled (zero), 1966
Felt pen on paper
28 × 21.6 cm
11 × 8 1/2 inches

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Pearl Flower, ca, 1965
Metal, wood and plastic with brass alloying
Courtesy of More Sky Collection

Details
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene, Silver Balloon Event, inauguration of new Boston City Hall, 1969
Photo: Leslie Larkin

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Untitled (zero), 1966
Felt pen on paper
28 × 21.6 cm
11 × 8 1/2 inches

Otto Piene
Untitled (zero), 1966
Felt pen on paper
28 × 21.6 cm
11 × 8 1/2 inches

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Pearl Flower, ca, 1965
Metal, wood and plastic with brass alloying
Courtesy of More Sky Collection

Otto Piene
Pearl Flower, ca, 1965
Metal, wood and plastic with brass alloying
Courtesy of More Sky Collection

Details
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Another prime example are the shimmering helium balloons in Piene’s Silver Balloon Event (1969), a happening that took place at the inauguration of Boston’s new City Hall. Not only do his spheres catch and reflect light, connecting outward to their environment, they are also reminiscent of natural, generative organisms, including cells, eggs, pearls and flowers.

Otto Piene, SkyDance/SkyTime, 1984
Folder with scores, mixed media

 

Over the last five decades, Piene’s SKY ART and his inflatable sculptures became a fixture at festivals and exhibitions all over the world, in memorable forms like that of Brussels Flower (1977–78), which alighted from the roof of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1984 as part of the performance event SkyDance/SkyTime.

Piene’s largest SKY ART project ever realized is the Olympic Rainbow, which took place at the closing ceremony of the 1972 Munich Olympics and engaged more than two hundred artists, students and enthusiasts on the ground.

Since then, Piene’s SKY ART works have remained a locus of experimentation and collaboration, at once relying on and generating communities each time they take flight.

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Brussels Flower, 1977–78
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
Dimensions variable, approximately 10 meters in diameter

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Brussels Flower, 1977–78
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
Dimensions variable, approximately 10 meters in diameter

Details
Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Brussels Flower, 1977–78
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
Dimensions variable, approximately 10 meters in diameter

Otto Piene
Brussels Flower, 1977–78
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
Dimensions variable, approximately 10 meters in diameter

Air Time – Group Exhibition

Otto Piene
Brussels Flower, 1977–78
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
Dimensions variable, approximately 10 meters in diameter

Otto Piene
Brussels Flower, 1977–78
Spinnaker cloth, polyethylene, blower, timer
Dimensions variable, approximately 10 meters in diameter

Details
icon_fullscreen
1 of 2

Over the last five decades, Piene’s SKY ART and his inflatable sculptures became a fixture at festivals and exhibitions all over the world, in memorable forms like that of Brussels Flower (1977–78), which alighted from the roof of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1984 as part of the performance event SkyDance/SkyTime.

Piene’s largest SKY ART project ever realized is the Olympic Rainbow, which took place at the closing ceremony of the 1972 Munich Olympics and engaged more than two hundred artists, students and enthusiasts on the ground.

Since then, Piene’s SKY ART works have remained a locus of experimentation and collaboration, at once relying on and generating communities each time they take flight.

Otto Piene, Olympic Rainbow, 1972, presented at the closing ceremony of the Munich Olympics.
Video: excerpt of a film by Murri Selle, later edited by Vin Grabill to include Otto Piene’s narration in his video “Otto Piene’s Sky Art”