Crowd before the launch of former Canberra artist Patricia Piccinini's Skywhale at the National Gallery of Australia. Click for more photos

Launch of the Skywhale

Crowd before the launch of former Canberra artist Patricia Piccinini's Skywhale at the National Gallery of Australia. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

AS A young girl growing up in Canberra, Patricia Piccinini used to wander the grand corridors of the National Gallery of Australia admiring the walls of paintings. On Saturday she returned as the star attraction, unveiling her latest creation, Skywhale.


More than 200 people turned out to watch her controversial Canberra centenary balloon take its maiden flight.
The mammoth hybrid creation dwarfed the National Gallery of Australia building as it was filled on the lawns between the NGA and portrait gallery.


Despite the controversy during the week, the overwhelming majority of those who made the early morning trek to the shores of Lake Burley Griffin to see the launch supported the government’s decision to spend more than $300,000 on the work.

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The artist of the 10-breasted, 23-metre high hot-air balloon was on hand to answer questions and defended the balloon’s relation to the capital, stating that while it was ’’not actually a work to celebrate Canberra’’, the piece and the city were both artificial creations depicting something natural.
Ms Piccinini arrived in the capital as a seven year old child of Italian immigrants and attended Red Hill Primary, Telopea Park High, Narrabundah College and Australian National University.
She has since been exhibited worldwide, including at the Venice Biennale and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


“For me, growing up in Canberra and being surrounded by nature was a real inspiration in a way that you may not have in another city in Australia,” she said.
The artist said the NGA had played a significant role in the development of her work.
‘‘I grew up and came to Canberra as it opened, so having access to that is really important to me, that space, and I would go there by myself as a young person, I think [Canberra’s] a great place to grow up, I really think that,” she said
As the moorings of the balloon were released the crowd roared its approval and like a mythical creature the Skywhale drifted above the city.


The next chance to see the Skywhale will be on Monday morning, weather permitting.  Flight details will be published on www.canberra100.com.au.