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A skywhale? You have a right to be disappointed

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Columnist for The Canberra Times

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The Skywhale's first flight

In May this year, sculptor Patricia Piccinini took her art to the skies, constructing a hot air balloon in the shape of a whale to honour Canberra's centenary. Vision supplied by Blueboat.

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Darth Vader (the hot-air balloon) was always going to be a hard act to follow and now Patricia Piccinini's Skywhale hot-air balloon must try to follow that act.

The balloon shaped like Darth Vader's famous and instantly recognisable head was a popular presence in our skies during March's Balloon Spectacular. No one who looked up and saw it gasped - "What's that meant to be?" - because professors of popular culture say that the helmeted head of the sociopathic cyborg is, after the Mona Lisa, the most famous, most instantly recognisable image our species knows of.

By contrast almost everyone who looks up and sees Piccinini's Skywhale certainly will gasp, "What's that meant to be?".

Internationally renowned artist and former Canberran Patricia Piccinini in front of the <em>Skywhale</em>.

Internationally renowned artist and former Canberran Patricia Piccinini in front of the Skywhale.

Lots of Canberrans will as well, because they have a morbid and anal-retentive obsession with the cost of things and especially the cost of works of art (the theme of half the angry letters to the editor), be gasping, "How much did that cost?".

Interviewing Piccinini earlier this week and asking her about the balloon, it didn't occur to me to ask vulgar questions about its cost. This was not only because I don't suffer from the psychological condition just referred to but because so much of my time with her was spent on the more important newshounding business of trying, in vain, to find out what the balloon looked like and what it was going to say. But she remained what the tabloids call "tight-lipped" on this.

But I suspect that those who care about costs will be left what the tabloids call "ashen-faced" if ever they find out. Piccinini is a famous and celebrated artist in her field of sculpting and installing (although this is her first balloon) and will have been properly paid. And then there's the fact that the balloon was made in Bristol in England by, methinks, one of only two companies in the world that know how to do such things. The balloon, then, is a kind of Stradivarius among balloons, and cannot have been on ''special''.

The <em>Skywhale</em>.

The Skywhale.

One tries not to be a philistine in this (how unfair by the way that the uncouth Goliath has given the philistines such a bad name when modern archaeology shows them to have been a civilised and arty civilisation) but perhaps Centenary creative director Robyn Archer could have commissioned a more festive, more accessible kind of balloon? My mind is still ajar but Skywhale seems (though I may have changed my mind about this by next week) an esoteric and indulgent thing.

Now I remember there was what turns out to have been an ominous moment in my conversation with the artist (whose keen mind and terrific craft I admire enormously) when I asked I her if Canberrans seeing the balloon in our skies would instantly notice something essentially Canberran about it. Ominously she said that, no, there wouldn't be.

Now whole classes of Canberrans (like, say, the Summernats classes, and their children) who know and care nothing about art and who don't want to have to give anything to do with the centenary any deep analysis, have a right to be disappointed by Skywhale. It is no fun. Perhaps in thinking of the best balloon for the centenary messrs Archer and Piccinini should have done the demanding work of imagining something that had mass appeal, that gave delight rather than a challenge.

Just a few festivals ago there was a balloon that was made up of two figures holding hands. I have even imagined (but I am keeping this to myself lest I be called a philistine) a Walter and Marion balloon, gliding together above the place in which the real Griffins invested so many of their dreams.

87 comments

  • All I can say is I am very glad they didn't commission you to design the balloon. Terrible idea.

    Commenter
    John Western
    Date and time
    May 09, 2013, 3:11PM
    • That is the weirdest thing I have seen in a long time. I love it!

      Commenter
      Pecan
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 8:48AM
  • WHY DOES IT HAVE BOOBS!!!????

    Commenter
    Mazbot
    Date and time
    May 09, 2013, 3:28PM
    • Well Mazbot, that is because Sky Whale (otherwise known as Turkturtcarptit) juxtaposes mammals in a post modern world against the homoerotic struggles of a young man designing a fledgling city in an era when enormous breasted mammals couldn't envisage flight. Then his wife suggested the only way the government could be safely housed above the people was if the flying mammal could suckle the population, so the grey haired dude from Jurassic Park ( he had dark hair in those days, it was a long time ago) genetically modified a mosquito in amber with a prehistoric whale and Pamela Anderson and voila Turkturtcarptit with 10 enormous breasts was born...................

      Or some such rubbish, you can make up your own story to suit, just include homo erotic and juxtapose and it will sound seriously arty.

      Commenter
      ekib
      Date and time
      May 09, 2013, 6:24PM
    • Breasts. Please!

      Commenter
      Will
      Location
      Turner
      Date and time
      May 09, 2013, 8:43PM
    • The banks of mammaries are symbolic of all the Canberran public servants on the government nipple - past and present. This piece of nonsensical flying propaganda was really designed by a covert operative for Tony Abbott. It has all the hallmarks - disconnected, lacking substance, nobody know what it stands for, and hot air dressed up as something else.

      Commenter
      doh
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 7:43AM
  • This has to be a joke, pull the other one, lets hope it springs a leak and can not get off the ground!!!

    Commenter
    1crowdedhr
    Date and time
    May 09, 2013, 3:29PM
    • When I first saw the balloon, I thought the udders were deflated wings. I thought that maybe when the balloon is fully inflated the wings would lift up to give the impression that the bird was flying.

      But sadly now it appears the deflated wings are really meant to be udders. Gross! This is an extreme waste of tax payers' money.

      Now I would like to know please, why wasn't there a competition so that Canberrans could choose the design of the balloon?

      Commenter
      Sharron
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      May 09, 2013, 4:01PM
      • How does this object represent the Canberra community or the city itself??? Given its very public nature, size, cost and purpose - why weren't we consulted, surveyed or invited to submit ideas???

        No doubt the artistic directors are slapping themselves on the back for their very clever/ meaningful/ ironic choice, but I have to say as someone born and bred in Canberra, this object does not represent me or my city and I feel no pride for it!

        Commenter
        Jane
        Date and time
        May 09, 2013, 4:15PM
      • Exactly, I fully agree Jane. I was trying to figure out what the balloon represented, and why on earth would it have udders.

        Commenter
        Sharron
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        May 09, 2013, 4:36PM

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