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Monstrous, big-breasted 'Skywhale' takes to the skies in Canberra
The Australian capital spends big on a mammalian symbol for city's centenary celebration
It looks like something out of “Spirited Away” or maybe “Where the Wild Things Are.”
The Skywhale is a 34-meter-long, 23-meter-high (that's 112 feet by 12 feet) bizarrely imaginative hot air balloon created by Australian sculptor Patricia Piccinini. The floating leviathan was commissioned by the city of Canberra as part of its 2013 centenary celebrations.
It took 16 people seven months, 3.5 kilometers of fabric and 3.3 million stitches to make the half-ton floating sculpture, which can hold a pilot and two passengers and fly to an altitude of 914 meters (3,000 feet).
Of all the exhibitions, performances and events in the year-long birthday celebrations, the Skywhale marks the largest commission made by the government unit in charge of the program.
“(Piccinini's) 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,” said centenary creative director Robyn Archer in a statement explaining the decision to commission Piccinini.
The total cost was A$172,000 (US$173,000), A$50,000 of which was donated by the Aranday Foundation.
Response to the Skywhale has been varied, from anger over its cost to appreciation of its unique qualities. The government opposition party has criticized the commission for overspending.
“(Spending) $170,000 on a whale-shaped hot air balloon -- incredible,” said opposition leader Jeremy Hanson, as reported by ABC News.
Responses on social media have varied.
“There are people in poverty in Australia, and Canberra spends $170,000 on a balloon that looks like a whale with a deformed scrotum?” tweeted Carly Haigh.
Others find the design intriguing.
“Nightmarish but strangely tender, with an overabundance of sexual references,” tweeted Gerard Atkinson.
The sexual references likely pertain to the sculpture's large breasts, which are meant to reflect that whales are mammals and breastfeed their young, said the artist in the ABC report.
Others find the Skywhale a potential reason to travel.
“Thinking of booking a trip to Canberra just so I can see the skywhale” tweeted Simon Copland.
Scheduled for a symbolic flight over Canberra on Monday, the Skywhale will then be trotted out at galleries and festivals throughout Australia, before being sent to other countries on tour.
More on CNN: Hong Kong's giant rubber duck