Skywhale grounded after Ballarat winds rip ‘quite big’ gash in balloon sculpture

Artist Patricia Piccinini says she is in ‘absolute shock’, while National Gallery of Australia says a dedicated team is working to repair damage

Patricia Piccinini’s much-loved Skywhale was grounded in Victoria over the weekend after strong winds in Ballarat ripped a gash in the balloon – but according to the National Gallery of Australia, her wounds are not serious.

The hot-air balloon sculpture has been regularly taking to the skies across Australia, as well as Japan, Ireland and Brazil, for almost a decade. But over the weekend, Skywhale failed to become airborne in Ballarat, after high winds ripped a one-metre gash between its breasts.

Its companion sculpture, Skywhalepapa, was not damaged but remained grounded by her side.

The sky sculptures were supposed to be part of the NGA’s touring Every Heart Sings project, appearing at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, before travelling on to Cairns Art Gallery in Queensland, the Northern Territory’s Araluen Arts Centre and the Tamworth Regional Gallery in NSW in September and October.

Both sculptures were deflated before lift-off on Sunday.

bad news: the Ballarat wind ripped the skywhale open & she can no longer fly. she’s now being taken behind the shed to be put down :(

— jeremy poxon (@JeremyPoxon) July 9, 2022

The NGA’s senior curator of Australian art, Elspeth Pitt, said on Monday that, like any operational aircraft, the Skywhale duo were susceptible to extreme weather.

“Sometimes during flight and tether events, the delicate fabric of the balloons can slightly pull, and on rare occasions, tear, which is what occurred in Ballarat due to wind,” Pitt told Guardian Australia.

“This is the nature of a hot-air balloon and one of the challenges of presenting these particular works of art.”

Pitt said the NGA had a team of dedicated staff, including specialist textile conservators, charged with the ongoing maintenance and care of the sculptures and they were expected to be airborne again by September.

Despite the Skywhale being ripped and the Ballarat winds being too much for them in general, it was nice to see them inflated.

— Preston Towers (@prestontowers) July 9, 2022

Piccinini, who was on the ground at the time of the aborted launch, later told the ABC she was in “absolute shock” when the decision to deflate Skywhale was made.

“I don’t want to be dramatic and I know she’s in the best place now to be repaired … If she was anywhere in the world, the NGA would be the best place to be because I know they will really look after her. They just care for her so much and will do the best possible job … but it was quite big,” Piccinini said.

“But these things happen, I suppose – in nature, in the wild, bad stuff happens.”


Kelly Burke

The GuardianTramp

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