The Centenary of Canberra has unveiled its largest commission – a sculpture by internationally renowned artist and former Canberran Patricia Piccinini that is a 34m long, 23m high hot-air balloon called The Skywhale. 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 3.3million 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. Centenary Creative Director Robyn Archer AO said that she wanted to offer the highly visible canvas of a balloon to an Australian artist as a Centenary of Canberra commission.
"Patricia Piccinini is one of Australia's most successful sculptors. Her work is seen in major collections in Australia, she represented Australia at the Venice Biennale and a survey show broke all attendance records for the Tasmanian Museum and Gallery," Robyn said.
"She has had recent exhibitions in Nashville, Istanbul and London. Her highly imaginative work invites us every time to think about the human condition, and it was this relationship with the very concept of 'life on earth' that made me think of her.
"Many special -shape balloons have started to replicate characters or animals, but they are mostly caricatures and in the realm of kitsch, rather than art.
"To my delight Patricia was immediately responsive to the idea of her work in a new form, and insisted that it would not be a novelty but a continuation of her ouevre and its years of investigation into the way life has evolved.
"This is exactly what the new work is, and we are so proud to have been able to find the resources to help this great artist make it happen. That Patricia was educated in Canberra also makes this a celebration of the fine talent that the national capital has and continues to produce."
The balloon was made by the world's most experienced manufacturer of hot air balloons, Cameron Balloons in Bristol, United Kingdom. It has been designed to carry a pilot plus two passengers to an altitude of 3000ft. The Skywhale will be officially launched by Robyn and Patricia on Saturday in a joint address to the Sculpture: Space and Place symposium at the National Gallery of Australia.
The balloon's cost of $172,000 includes $50,000 in philanthropic funding provided by the Aranday Foundation. Its chairman, Rupert Myer AM, says that he greatly admires and is excited by Patricia's imagination and artistry.
"In a glance, her works spirit us away to another type of universe where life exists differently. Without judgement, she makes us think deeply about how we respond to the unfamiliar and unknowable.
"And she does it with wit and candour. It is a privilege to have supported the commission," Mr Myer said. From Canberra The Skywhale will go to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) In Hobart on June 15-16 and 22-23, and the work will be presented at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne later this year. It is envisaged that The Skywhale will also appear at galleries, festivals and balloon festivals throughout Australia and the world, acknowledged as being a commission of the Centenary of Canberra.
Patricia Piccinini is one of Australia's best-known contemporary artists and works in a variety of media including painting, sculpture, video, sound and digital prints. She arrived in Canberra as a seven year old child of Italian immigrants and, after attending Red Hill Primary, Telopea Park High, Narrabundah College and Australian National University, has gone on to achieve world renown as a sculptor.
Patricia says that she grew up as a 'real migrant kid' in Canberra without privilege, and yet was exposed to a level of information and learning which has fuelled her spirit and her work.
She is one of Australia's most successful and recognised contemporary sculptors and has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Victoria and Albert Museum London, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and one of the world's leading art shows, documenta in Kassel, Germany.
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