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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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Canberrans don’t own the Skywhale hot-air balloon, despite spending $170,000 on the controversial piece of art.

Centenary of Canberra creative director Robyn Archer confirmed that the 23-metre tall creation is not owned by the ACT government, but by the company that operates the balloon.

“It’s actually owned by the balloon company that flies it,” she said.

The Centenary of Canberra has launched its largest commission ? a sculpture by internationally renowned artist and former Canberran Patricia Piccinini.

The Skywhale?is at least twice as big as a standard hot-air balloon, weighs half a tonne and used more than 3.5km of fabric. It took 16 people seven months and more than 3.3 million stitches to design and make.

It will be tethered near the National Gallery of Australia on Saturday morning as part of an international sculpture symposium.? On Monday it will make its first flight over Canberra.


Former Canberran Patricia Piccinini with her creation, the Skywhale.

“It’s a complex contract. The intellectual property belongs to the artist … and she determines in the end when offers come for it to be flown, she determines where it’s flown.”

Speaking on 2CC Friday morning, Ms Archer also defended the cost of the hot-air ballon, created by artist and former Canberran Patricia Piccinini.

“This is the cheapest piece of public art,” she said.

“Almost every piece of public art in Canberra costs more. There is no argument on cost.”

The Skywhale has been received with varied feedback since its unveiling on Thursday, prompting comments such as ugly, impractical and “a huge waste of money”.

But Ms Archer dismissed the criticism as disappointing.

“Everyone seems to have been really, really willing to judge this without ever seeing it and I find that a little bit curious, a bit kneejerk and strange,” she said.

She also defended its relation to Canberra and the city’s centenary, saying the “connection couldn’t be plainer”.

“We’ve been inviting lots and lots of ex-Canberrans … to bring back their stuff,” she said.

“The connection with the centenary is ‘look at how many amazing people Canberra has produced over these years’.”

Ms Archer said the balloon was booked to fly in Hobart and Melbourne later this year, and could not confirm if the creation would be back for the balloon festival in 2014.