Thursday, May 23, 2013


The Canberra Times of 9th May 2013 reported that Canberra was Gearing up for a whale of a time with centenary balloon: Skywhale. It illustrated this article with images of the balloon that had folk puzzled. Was it really a whale? Was it a turtle? It seemed to be obviously, heavily female, but why was there an emphasis - an over-emphasis - on this aspect of the ‘art’? Were the appendages female parts or not? If not, what? Should one know?


One is left wondering: What was its inspiration? Why a whale for Canberra? Its water feature is an artificial lake. Why a balloon? There is probably enough 'hot air' in Canberra already. Surely the relevance of the piece was not merely in the pun: 'a whale of a time'?

Well, the artist, sculptor Patricia Piccinini, is reported as having said:

. . . in designing the balloon she was inspired by Canberra's plan, which though man-made, sought to imitate a natural environment.

''That's what I wanted to do with the balloon, something that was obviously artificial, but seemingly natural, that's why I ended up with this beautiful sky whale,'' she said.

The vision still remains an enigma even though we are told that it is beautiful. Maybe the artist needs to get some public concensus on this aesthetic aspect of her work? But why try to use Griffin’s geometric plan to explain the inspiration to make a whale, let alone a balloon? Why not a flower – this is ‘natural’ too, more natural than the plan; and then anything ‘man-made’ will be, well, ‘man-made’ – won’t it? The rationale and its ambitions are very puzzling, on the edge of the incredible, as though art needs some quirky difference and reference to be, well, ‘art’ that is itself sometimes seen as having to involve eccentric variations. Such blurb as this really does not give art a good name.

One has to ask: Is the inspiration really Archigram?

Joe Morgan, in his blog The role of speculative thinking in Architecture – see  - writes a piece dated 10 December titled: A look at Archigram, and looking for today’s equivelent. (sic) An Archigram balloon/airship illustration is used as an illustration in this blog. Is it a fish or a whale? - no, an 'Instant City'; an 'eventcentre';
an 'EVENT: Canberra's Centenary?

In response to Joe’s quest, the obvious question remains:
Is today’s 'equivalent' of Archigram best seen in Canberra's centenary hot-air balloon, the Skywhale? If the artist won’t tell, then who will ever know?

Sharing ideas and acknowledging the works of others that have been greatly admired is not something anyone needs to be ashamed of if these ideas/works have been inspirational. Sources can sometimes be very blurry, and the world has many astonishing parallels in both science and art. Still, our era needs to forget about the concept of the unique and the bespoke as the only ideal in creativity. In a similar manner, our era needs to stop trying to give rational explanations that attempt to structure a necessary logic for matters of motivation when circumstances might be otherwise.

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