Kyu makes sky a canvas

David Kyu used sky-typing for his latest project, “Write Sky.”

“Write Sky” aims to connect disjointed neighborhoods through creativity and innovation. Margo Reed | TTN
“Write Sky” aims to connect disjointed neighborhoods through creativity and innovation. Margo Reed | TTN

David Kyu said sky-typing, and the sky itself, are just metaphors.

On Sept. 14, members of the neighborhood encased by Broad Street, 8th Street, Vine Street and Spring Garden Street stood in awe as cloud-scribed messages were displayed across the Philadelphia skyline. Kyu’s project, “Write Sky,” uses sky-typing planes to create aerial messages selected by members of specific neighborhoods.

“The whole project is a metaphor for consensus,” Kyu said. “Because we’re making the metaphor that consensus is extremely hard to reach, and then it goes away right away, this medium was absolutely the appropriate one.”

Kyu, a 2007 Temple alumnus and Asian Arts Initiative artist, said the social practice lab extends past just artistic creativity and flashy flying.

“I felt like a lot of people wanted positive change for their neighborhood,” Kyu said. “I saw the sky as a space that everybody shared equally, as kind of a unifying factor. Once I thought about that as the metaphor, the project materialized as ‘let’s make an imprint into our shared sky to show what we have in common.’”

Unlike sky-writing, which involves a single plane emitting fumes to produce a word or phrase in cursive, sky-typing relies on five, highly synchronized planes flying together. Each plane emits fumes produced by a canola-based oil inside the base of the plane as it flies in formation, while a computer controls the amount of oil emitted.

Sky typing allows for roughly 25 characters to be produced in a single run, as opposed to the 10 characters that sky-writing is limited to. The planes used for Kyu’s project are all commissioned from AirSign USA, an aerial advertising company.

Like “Write Sky,” Kyu said most of his artistic endeavors tend to lie far outside the standard realm of traditional artwork.

“My work has never quite fit the gallery,” Kyu said. “I like to use the world as my tool, my paintbrush.”

Also known by “Chinatown North,” the project is a testament to the diversity of its residents, who Kyu hopes to help unify through the project.

As a way to promote the project’s theme of community togetherness, people from the neighborhood applied in groups to select what the planes would write. Afterward, a few select groups were separated into pairs to agree upon a message, and eventually all participants were required to reach a consensus to produce three final messages.

“Very few people respond to just a flyer on a building,” Kyu said. “Ultimately people applied because they had a personal connection [with me] because I worked hard to make those connections.”

For the installation of the project earlier this month, three previous dates were scheduled for the sky-typing process, and were cancelled due to inclement weather. Kyu said finding a date that allowed all collaborators to view the project was no easy process.

“Nature is a terrible collaborator,” Kyu said. “If one group couldn’t make it [to the event], then there were questions about whether the project was actually bringing people together, or if it was continuing to re-entrench the divisions that occur in the neighborhood.”

Aside from “Write Sky,” Kyu has participated in a number of other performance art projects. One project, titled “My Best Friend Facebook Forever,” involved Kyu participating in whatever events he was invited to on Facebook for a month, while during another he embodied the identity of Keanu Reaves by reenacting a scene from “The Matrix.”

Due to the amount of planning and organization required for “Write Sky,” future sky-typing ceremonies are to be determined.

Thanks to his success with the project, Kyu has high hopes for aspiring artists looking to get their foot in the door of Philly’s art scene.

“It’s hard to stay committed to it,” Kyu said. “But if you really believe in it, ultimately you will make your way.”

Eamon Dreisbach can be reached at

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