2nd International Artist Air Show :: Ben Blakebrough

July 2007, London UK

Winged Self, Ben Blakeborough

Winged Self, Ben Blakeborough

In July 2007 I flew to London to participate in the 2nd International Artist Air Show at the invitation of Arts Catalyst, UK Art Science organization where I presented the inaugural performance of my project the Winged Self. After many months of preparations and preliminary testing I was ready to present this bodily form of flight to the public. I had been in conversation with Arts Catalyst curator Rob la Frenais in 2006 and felt that this would be the perfect event at which to present the work.

The Arts Catalyst event attracted 150 people. Inclement weather made the day less inviting for the expected 500 or so guests. Excellent planning and coordination of the event,however, allowed the viewing audience to really engage with and appreciate the events of the day. The Air Show took place at Gunpowder Park, a rehabilitated munitions testing grounds in Essex. The park has recently been converted to become a dedicated arts-science open event area with an excellent administration and contemporary facilities. The park offers artists working in a vast diversity of fields the space to perform or exhibit their work. A train from Liverpool St station in London takes around 20 min with a 15 min walk to the park or there is a bike track from London all the way to the park.

During the course of the Air Show I performed two flights; the first being approximately 15 mins the second 25 minutes. During the second flight I was close to having total hovering control of the aircraft with low wind conditions and hovering periods which lasted up to 5 minutes at a time before the platform touched the ground. Each public presentation is a lesson in flight of the platform for me, and there is no doubt that I have improved my level of flight dramatically by these performances.

Winged self at The Big Chill, Ledbury, UK 3-5 August 2007

Winged self at The Big Chill, Ledbury, UK 3-5 August 2007

The audience response to the performance was very stimulating with a lengthy public discussion after each flight. I found this to be a highlight of the trip; people could take some new and interesting information away with them after the flights and maybe even question the very nature of flight as we know it. The general excitement that the performance generated made the years of work I have put into this project feel worthwhile.

I met a group of interesting and diverse artists working in the field of flight; Gavin Pretor-Pinney, author of the Cloud Spotter’s guide; Tomas Saraceno, Argentinian Artist who has constructed a massive mushroom cloud like structure from lighter than airfoil that floats into the sky using only the thermal power of the sun; Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen from France; Simon Faithfull UK artist whose work was represented this year at the Venice Biennale who put a chair with a remote camera mounted to it into the upper atmosphere using a weather balloon- (amazing to watch his footage) and many others.

The forum that followed up the performances was engaging and inspiring and I found it a privilege to be amongst like-minded artists delving into the area of flight.

The performance received good media attention with an interview and article in the Saturday London Telegraph, the Guardian’s What’s On Guide and Australian Vogue Living Sep/Oct. A number of influential contacts where made ranging from artists working in fields of interest to event coordinators and arts organizations.

An invaluable contact was made with artist psychopter pilot Ian Walters who was able to share insight and technical theory with me. This also led to a fantastic afternoon before I left the UK flying over and around London with Ian in a psychopter. This experience gave me great excitement and consolidated theories I have been formulating on the idea of low slow flight which is synonymous with the Winged Self flying platform and shed light on Arthur Young’s The Bell Notes and other philosophies I have discovered in my research concerning the dream of hovering flight. This raised the question do we perceive flight as just a means of getting from A to B and are we missing something that is the idea of freedom in the air.

The Winged Self project has been nine years in the making. Presenting the work internationally at a dedicated event has been a rewarding and exhilarating experience.The contacts I have made and the upcoming performances that have been arranged all contribute to a successful trip.

The support that ANAT has given me was of the utmost importance to the presentation of the work. It would not have been possible to follow up on the invitation from Arts Catalyst without this assistance for the air travel, as to take the flying platform across the world is a costly experience.

Through the presentation of the work I accepted a new invitation to perform at the Big Chill electronic arts and music festival in Herefordshire in August 2007 and returned home to afurther invitation to present the work at Robodock in the Netherlands September 2007.

Read Sky Is My Screen in Filter Issue 70, Screen Play

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