The challenge was daunting. Create an art-based experience that could help aid people’s collective renewal as we entered year three of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was the type of challenge especially befitting Bruins. The resulting project — UCLA’s “Moment of Reflection,” an 18-foot by 18-foot artificial intelligence-powered data sculpture that displayed wavelike forms shape-shifting into explosions of brilliant colors that danced to the sounds of the sea all in campus’s Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden — brought thousands of people out to contemplate how COVID-19 had affected their lives.

To recognize the brilliance of this one-of-a-kind project, Event Marketer magazine honored UCLA with gold in the Best Pandemic-era Design category in its 2022 Experience Design & Technology Awards.

“The campaign ultimately allowed the UCLA community to come together for an emotional experience that connected them to nature, and more importantly, one another,” the magazine wrote. UCLA worked closely with the experiential marketing agency Manifold on “Moment of Reflection.”

On the evening of April 19, months of hard work and creativity culminated when 1,000 people gathered at the opening ceremony as UCLA unveiled the installation.

“There are times when the language of art can speak to us most deeply,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said as he addressed those gathered for the opening ceremony. “It can allow us to hear what is in our hearts, and it can help us understand what we need in order to heal.”

The central component of the “Moment of Reflection” was an artwork commissioned by multimedia artist and alumnus Refik Anadol. The 2014 master’s degree graduate from the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture’s Design Media Arts program drew from the research he conducted at the start of the pandemic regarding nature’s effect on emotions and sleep patterns. The resulting work, titled “Machine Simulations: Nature,” created its dazzling display from feeding machine-learning algorithms a dataset of more than 300 million images of nature.

At the ceremony, attendees were guided through the 124,000-square-foot garden via twinkle lights that illuminated the path to a main seating area. There, they experienced the multisensory installation as Anadol took the stage to say a few words. To close out the event, the artist asked the audience to open the velvet gift bags that had been distributed as they arrived, which revealed individual glowing orbs, and invited attendees to raise them into the air for a unified moment of reflection and renewal.