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Man on a flying platformWinged Self, Ben Blakebrough, 2007

2nd International Artists Airshow

Ben Blakebrough, HeHe, Anne Bean, Helen Evans, Rachel Chapman, Sonia Khurana, Heiko Hansen, Ruth Maclennan, Brandon Ballengée

Gunpowder Park, Stewardstone Road, Waltham Abbey, Essex

30/06/2007

Three years after the first Artists Airshow, a day of art and flying in and around Europe's largest wind tunnel at Farnborough, the 2nd International Artists Airshow took place at Gunpowder Park.

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The 2nd International Artists Airshow reflected both the explosive and ephemeral nature of Gunpowder Park and investigated the artists' almost impossible dream of flight.

Two performance works started the day: Ben Blakeborough's Winged Self was a flying platform designed and flown by the artist, then, in Eagle, Ruth Maclennan encouraged a trained eagle to document the moving public on the ground. In Gunpowder Park's dense woodland, Sonia Khurana's video installation Bird explored the possibility of flight through the constraints of the human body, and Hehe's Smoking Lamp responded to the direct pollution caused by cigarette smoke, whilst on a nearby hill their Air De Londres was an observation point from which people viewed and listened to the polluted skies over London. In the field station, Rachel Chapman, in her project Mapping the Air, collected spores from visitors clothing throughout the day. By examining airborne spores, the trajectory of a person's journey and their activities were be traced.

The day's finale was Anne Bean, Mark Anderson, Nick Sales (UK)'s Black Mass, in which they made a large scale pyrotechnic work which launched a sky bourne sculptural mass of dense black smoke which aimed to block out the sun.

Late in the evening, following the 'Aesthetics of Impossibility' symposium, visitors went on a night field trip to view the insects attracted by Brandon Ballengee's ultra-violet Love Motels for Insects.

The 2nd International Artists Airshow was a collaboration between The Arts Catalyst and Gunpowder Park.

Artists' Projects

Winged Self, Ben Blakeborough (Australia)

Blakeborough has been training himself to fly 'winged self' for several years, a real flying platform that hovered according to the artist's body movements.

"The theory of the Winged Self has developed from concepts elucidated by Charles Zimmerman in the 1950s. His chief concept was simple; every human possesses the necessary built in balance and reflex control within the middle ear, nerves and muscular system - if man could create a controlled, powerful downward column of thrust below his feet, he could easily balance and hover in one place. By leaning in the direction one wanted to travel, one could tilt the thrust vector and hence move in that direction. Many novel and ingenious concepts from this period were funded by defence budgets but the findings and aircraft eventually fell by the wayside. Thankfully Zimmerman’s ideas of the free flying self have survived due to the documentation of his ideas and flying apparatus." Ben Blakeborough

Eagle, Ruth Maclennan (UK)

Mclennan encouraged a trained eagle to document the moving public on the ground, with the results transmitted live on screen. Eagle looks at the communication between hunter and eagle, while the audience is in a strange position as both witness of the flight, and object viewed by the ‘eagle-camera’. The eagle plays the role of a machine (a flying camera), while still retaining the autonomous will of a wild bird of prey.

"Eagle is an ongoing art project that explores the symbolism and experience of the co-operation between birds of prey and humans, in particular the relationship of eagle hunter to trained eagle which originated in Central Asian nomadic cultures. Falconry is a dance of death: a ritual that represents the complex interdependence of humans and animals. In eagle hunting, the eagle stands in for the human hunter, the human killer. This surrogate role is the sign of culture, of the ritualisation of death.”

Bird, Sonia Khurana (India)

Khurana’s video installation was constructed in Gunpowder Park’s dense woodland, in a small shed, similar to those used for bird hides, as a site specific work that explored the possibility of flight through the constraints of the human body.

“Bird is about being a body. It is about an encounter with failed flight. It is an investigation of two kinds of limitations: the body confronting its own flesh and the forces of gravity, and a discrete questioning of accounts of the body which overlook sexual difference.”

Air De Londres and Smoking Lamp, Hehe (Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen, France)

Hehe take one step beyond the notion of flight by looking at the air itself and its quality. Continuing with a project started in Paris using public air-monitoring equipment, they utilised an automated monitoring station not far from Gunpowder Park, in Ponder's End in Enfield, that measures ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). At Gunpowder Park they made an observation point where people viewed and listened to the 'coloured skies' over London. Smoking Lamp was an interactive installation which responded to the direct pollution caused by cigarette smoke, which also marked the end of smoking in public in England on 1 July 2007.

Black Mass, Anne Bean, Mark Anderson, Nick Sales (UK)

Following on from a massive 'sky drawing' created for Artists Airshow 1 with adapted parachute rockets, a co-ordinated detonation device and 100m ribbons, Bean, Anderson and Sales were commissioned to make a large scale pyrotechnic work which reflected the history of munitions manufacture at Gunpowder Park and launched a sky bourne sculptural mass of dense black smoke which aimed to block out the sun.

Mapping the Air, Rachel Chapman (UK)

Chapman set up a mobile "spore extraction laboratory" where spores were collected from visitors clothing throughout the day. By examining airborne spores that collect on skin, hair, clothing the trajectory of a person's journey and their activities can be traced, revealing the ecology of the environment that person has passed through – sometimes quite specifically. Collating what is collected from a set of people on a given day generates a kind of ecological 'map' of the air for that particular day, interrelated to the topography of land below.

Rachel Chapman's Mapping the Air

Links to artists' websites:

HeHe
Anne Bean
Rachel Chapman
Ruth Maclennan

Support

Grant for the Arts from Arts Council England, the Henry Moore Foundation, and ANAT