And a quite magnificent beast indeed, whose ten enormous udders allow it to ascend heavenwards over the Australian capital city, Canberra, to the delight (and sometimes disgust) of onlookers.
To celebrate Canberra’s centenary in 2013, artist Patricia Piccinini was commissioned to design a hot air balloon, and thus the Skywhale was born. To lift directly from Wikipedia on the matter:
Piccinini’s intention when designing the balloon was to fashion it as sculpture of a living creature rather than a “balloon that looked like something”. She was inspired by the planned nature of Canberra, and has described the work as:
“My question is what if evolution went a different way and instead of going back into the sea, from which they came originally, they went into the air and we evolved a nature that could fly instead of swim. In fact coming from a place like Canberra where it’s a planned city that’s really tried to integrate and blend in with the natural environment, it makes a lot of sense to make this sort of huge, gigantic, but artificial and natural-looking creature”.
The official website of The Skywhale describes Piccinini’s design as follows:
Wings didn’t make sense to Patricia; the creature was too big and the technical limitations of balloon design wouldn’t allow them anyway. So she took a cue from the balloon itself, and imagined that the creature might somehow secrete a lighter than air gas. In the place of wings she imagined huge udders that might contain the gas, as well as a huge bulbous body. She imagined the creature with a slightly more human face, with a calm benign expression that would inspire empathy rather than fear. Her aim was to create a being that was massive and wondrous and that exists somewhere between the impossible and the unlikely.
Whatever the justification behind it, Piccinini has created a memorable work of public art, and it was the highlight of the Australian National University Mountaineering Club sunrise (an overcast one, admittedly) paddle during the Balloon Spectacular event.
That, and the pirate parrot that had landed on a highway two days earlier.
For more photos, check out my Flickr album.
And for photos from an exceptionally good local photographer, see Tracy Lee’s blog.