Sunday, June 23, 2013

Things in the Sky – Celebrating the Solstice in Hobart

By Elizabeth Barsham

It's the longest night of the year – and Hobart was ablaze with light. The program for Dark MoFo, our Winter Arts Festival, invites us to "Celebrate the Dark through large-scale public art, food, music, light and noise." Indeed! Well, they're right about the large-scale public art. It doesn't come much larger than a fifteen-kilometre high column of light generated by forty nine specially-made searchlights aimed at the zenith, with interactive soundtrack to match.

Spectra from the photographer's
backyard 
this is my contribution to the genre
Ryoji Ikeda's Spectra [Tasmania] must be the most visible and the most thoroughly photographed work of art ever to appear in Tasmania. Here are some of the favourite viewpoints:


On Friday night Spectra was joined by Patricia Piccinini's controversial Skywhale.

I have never been a fan of Piccinini's work, but Skywhale, despite the jokes and adverse comments, turns out to be strangely moving.

Skywhale is a hot-air balloon in the shape of – well – sort of a whale, adorned with enormous, pendulous breasts and a fan-shaped tail that could well be claws. After dark it seems to flicker in and out of existence as the burners are turned on and off. They served only to keep it inflated tonight; it was firmly tethered on the Regatta Ground, giving photographers the opportunity to include it, and a gibbous moon, in their photographs of Spectra


I did not take a camera; some experiences are too vast to be captured by a small machine, and Skywhale is certainly big; standing directly beneath it you realise just how big it is. And how ungainly.

Seen as an assembly of organic curves rather than representing some imaginary beast it becomes a reasonably pleasing pattern of shapes, in particular when you stand beneath the "tail". Such bulbous forms, however, never suggest that this thing was meant to fly. Huge, incongruous breasts weigh it down, the exaggeratedly mammalian body anchoring any higher aspirations firmly to the ground. The contradiction between its visual and its actual weight is extremely disturbing; the great, sad eye and vaguely comic-book features express a deep sense of melancholy, the despair of a creature doomed to failure.

As I watched, the burners turned off and the beast slowly deflated until it was no more than a pile of limp, pink fabric. A premonition of the fate of all large mammals? Or just a playful piece of art? I don't know. So I went off to celebrate the Solstice at the Winter Feast at Princes Wharf and had a jolly good evening.

The ABC took some excellent photographs, which you can see here.

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