I Like Big Balloons, I Cannot Lie

William Assman was a balloon racer from St. Louis who attempted several times to win the John Gordon Bennett Trophy, a flying endurance competition to spur development of gas balloon technology, which was founded in 1906 by the sporty owner of the New York Herald.

Miss Sofia was one of Assman’s earlier balloons, probably from 1910-11. In the 1910 International Balloon Race, Assman rode as aide on the German balloon Harburg II and sustained multiple injuries when it crashed into a Canadian lake. [That’s how the race was run; the balloons would just go as far as they could, then land, and report their position. Farthest/last one flying won.]

He was flying the Miss Sofia in 1911, though.

But not in 1912, when the NY Times reported his balloon, the St Louis IV, was eliminated from the qualifying round with technical problems. By 1913, he was flying the Miss Sophia II [sic], which had a valve torn out by strong wind. Said the Times: “When he found he could not start, he took his pocketknife and cut his $1,800 balloon to pieces.”

You’d think that even though he never won the Bennett Trophy, a daring balloonist named Assman would be more famous than he currently appears to be. [via andy]


If I’m a little high right now, it’s just because these conservators just hit like every art button I have:

To photo-document Spiral Jetty, we used a tethered helium balloon about 8-10 feet in diameter, attached to a digital camera that would take an image every few seconds until the camera’s memory card filled up. Each of us let out string from a spool and sent the balloon up anywhere from 50 to 600 meters, depending on what we were trying to capture and other factors such as wind and amount of helium to give lift. The results were absolutely amazing! Now I have a low tech, low cost way to take aerial images of the sculpture — something I plan to do on an annual basis. These images can be paired with data that we collected using a Total Station survey instrument in order to create scaled 3D maps and diagrams of the Jetty and its materials.

Extending the Conservation Framework: A Site-Specific Conservation Discussion with Francesca Esmay [art21.org via man]

You Had Me At Muschamp in Monaco

Herbert Muschamp in a giant weather balloon movie in Monaco WHAT?

This is something we did in Monaco where we put Herbert Muschamp’s text, “Bubbles in the Wine,” to film. It was my job to go out and find these weather balloon manufacturers that had these funny-shaped screens that had projectors inside them. And what Peter with Imaginary Forces did was to figure out how to cut a nine-screen film simultaneously so you sometimes get a single image, you sometimes get multiple images on the balloons.

That’s Greg Lynn, speaking last year at MoMA’s “Design and the Elastic Mind” exhibition, as presented by Seed Magazine.
Sure enough, he wasn’t making it up. In 2006, Germano Celant brought in Lisa Dennison to help curate, “New York, New York,” a giant summer show at the Grimaldi Forum. Lynn, Imaginary Forces, and UN Studios worked as United Architects, the collaborative they formed for the World Trade Center rebuilding competition.
Here’s the brief:

UA created an immersive space that told the story of the last 50 years of New York Architecture through an animated narrative, scripted by Herbert Muschamp. Eight synchronized films and a uniquely New York soundtrack told a story of the past, present and future of the city. By suspending eight 20-foot balloons with interior projection from the ceiling and walls, IF transformed the balloons into a new architectural media delivery system.

And here’s IF’s quick making of video, which Warner Music Group unceremoniously stripped the soundtrack from:

Hmm. First off, this all sounds straight from the Eameses’ expo playbook. Their collaboration with George Nelson, for example, at the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow. Glimpses of the USA was a 7-screen film epic of American material awesomeness, shown in a dome pavilion, and designed to blow hapless Commie minds. [My mind was blown a little bit just by this photo of the Eameses standing inside a mockup of the pavilion. via]
And of course, the Eameses went on to make approximately one million movie/slide/multimedia presentations and exhibitions for IBM, a format which was later cloned in every Park Service visitors center I went to as a child. So on the bright side, there’s no need for a proof of concept!
All told, the installation as realized, with the balloon screens seemingly dispersed on either side of the narrow, Nauman-esque exhibition space, doesn’t seem to have quite the impact that UA originally imagined. Check out the drawing over Lynn’s shoulder above, where the balloons are all clustered like sperm around an invisible egg. [Which would have been you, by the way, the viewer. You were the egg. And Joe Buck was the sperm. Muschamp is whooping in Heaven right now at the thought, I’m sure.] Point is, the panoramic wall is closer to what UA realized in their “New City” installation at MoMA.
Meanwhile, there’s not much online about “New York, New York,” which was subtitled, “Cinquante ans d’art, architecture, photographie, film et vidéo.” From the Art in America writeup, it sounded like a sprawling mess and a bit of a trophy dump, not necessarily a bad thing. Of course, half the article is about expo logistics and insurance and transporting masterpieces [sic], so who knows? Also, I can’t find this Muschamp “Bubbles” essay anywhere online. Please tell me someone somewhere’s working on a collected works.
Monaco starts around 3:30: Seed Design Series | Greg Lynn: New City [seedmagazine, thanks greg.org idol john powers for the tip]
Experience Design | Bubbles in the Wine, 2006 [imaginaryforces.com]

House On The Moon On The Ericsson Globe

Josh Foer is on fire, and I’m like a moth to the flame. Foer’s guestblogging at BoingBoing, and is just lobbing up one crazy-awesome megasphere after another. It was his charticle in Cabinet a while back about the history of giant spheres that introduced me to satelloons in the first place.
So it’s no surprise that he surprises me again with an offhand reference to the Globe Arena in Stockholm, which is just “the largest spherical building in the world.” And it also happens to be at the center of the Sweden Solar System, the world’s largest scale model of the solar system, where Pluto is a ball 300km away.
No, the Globe, which Ericsson just paid to have renamed the Ericsson Globe, also has a small stuga, a traditional red Swedish cottage stuck on top of it for the summer.
A month ago, the Swedish artist Mikael Genberg, whose primary medium seems to be the traditional red Swedish cottage, attached one to the Globe in preparation for his much larger project, which is to dispatch a traditional red Swedish cottage-building robot to the moon in 2012, and have it build a traditional red Swedish cottage there. On the moon.
I’m not sure how this syncs with the Sweden Solar System, where I assume the 100-m diameter Globe is standing in for the sun, not the moon, but the visuals are pretty irresistible.
Sweden Solar System [atlasobscura.com via boingboing]
Ericcson Globe, aka Stockholm Globe Arena [wikipedia]
houseonthemoon.com project blog [houseonthemoon.com]
MikaelGenberg.com [insane, optimized for Netscape 4, unclickable]
Swedes sending robot to the moon to build nice little cottage [gizmodo.com]
image and video: Röd stuga på Globens topp [svt.se]

Les Ballons du Grand Palais

The Grand Palais was already the best of the three venues in the world capable of accommodating my Satelloon project–a re-creation of NASA’s Project Echo (1960), the 100-ft metallic spherical balloon which was world’s first communications satellite, and which was also known as the most beautiful and most-viewed object ever launched into space–but now it’s practically inevitable.
Unless someone tells me that the Pantheon or Grand Central Station have already hosted legendary air shows dating back a hundred years…

These photos from Branger & Cie via the Smithsonian show balloons and blimps on display at the 1re Exposition Internationale de Locomotion Aerienne, which debuted in the nave of the Grand Palais in September 1909. They ran until 1951. Which makes bringing back the spirit of the Air Show both spectaculaire et logique!


Previously: Les Satelloons du Grand Palais]

Giant Satelloon-Shaped Downtown Megastructures I Haven’t Known But Loved

Downtown Megastructures, originally uploaded by sokaris73.

I can’t find any details online about this “Downtown Megastructures” image by Klaus Pinter and his colleagues in the Austrian architecture collaborative Haus-Rucker beyond what sokaris73 put in the flickr caption: it dates to 1971, and was apparently included in a 2000-1 show, “Radical Architecture,” which traveled from Dusseldorf and Koln to Villeurbanne.
MoMA showed a similar-looking 1971 gouache/photo collage last year, though, in Andres Lepik’s “Dreamland: Architectural Experiments since the 1970s”. Titled Palmtree Island (Oasis), it’s a dome island [an Uptown Megastructure?] super-imposed on Nervi’s 1963 bus terminal at the George Washington Bridge.
Seems the 60’s and 70’s love affair with inflatable architecture was not just contained to America and the nude Stones fans at Ant Farm. In 1968, the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris showed “Structures Gonflables,” a giant show of blow-up design and architecture. Not big enough, though, if this photo of a dirigible blimp being stuffed into the museum is any indication:
Coming at this balloon genre from the NASA point of view–not to mention the corporate and government world’s fair pavilions point of view–it’s beyond ironic that inflatable megastructures were often considered embodiments of anti-establishment, countercultural ideology. The Architectural League had a traveling exhibition on the subject in 1998, “The Inflatable Moment: Pneumatics and Protest in ’68,” which Metropolis Magazine wrote about at the time. Good stuff.

Oasis 7, Haus-Rucker, Documenta 5

In 1972, the Austrian architecture collective Haus-Rucker installed Oasis Nr 7 at Documenta 5.
A steel pipe structure was cantilevered out the window of the Friedericianum, and a platform, two palm trees, and a hammock were installed. The entire thing was enclosed in an 8-meter translucent vinyl bubble.
Oasis 7 was re-created last September It was built on a fake Friedericianum facade at the Victoria & Albert Museum for the exhibition, “Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970.
Haus-Rucker project archive [ortner.at]
Time lapse making of video: Oasis 7 in the Victoria & Albert Museum [iconeye.com]
via atelier, where I’ve been lifting all sorts of interesting things this week.

Mariner 2 Float In The Rose Bowl Parade

Amazing to think that all this was happening at the same time as the satelloons of Project Echo and just five years after Sputnik.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory director William Pickering was the grand marshal of the 1963 Rose Bowl Parade. Behind him followed a float of the Mariner 2 space probe, which had successfully reached Venus in December 1962.
A Venus made of roses with a flower satellite probe orbiting it. And a little window cut out of Venus so the driver can see. Fantastic.
Mariner 2 Rose Parade Float [nasa jpl via nasaimages.org]

Oh Mighty ISIS!

It seems the Pentagon has gotten wind of my master plan to re-create satelloons, the giant, inflated satellites with the integrated reflective communications capability, and they’re trying to beat me to the punch with a $400 million, 450-foot-long, inflated surveillance “airship” which would operate for up to 10 years at an altitude of 65,000 feet:

The Air Force has signed an agreement with DARPA to develop a demonstration dirigible by 2014. The prototype will be a third as long as the planned surveillance craft — known as ISIS, for Integrated Sensor Is the Structure, because the radar system will be built into the structure of the ship.

Uh, shouldn’t that be ISITS? Who names these things? Isn’t including “is” in your acronym cheating, like using all monosyllabic words in your haiku? But whatever, 150-foot prototype!
Pentagon plans blimp to spy from new heights [latimes]

High Five To The Warhol Foundation Arts Writers

Awesome, I just read through the announcement of the 2008 Arts Writers Grant recipients, and I have to give a huge shoutout to Paddy Johnson whose Art Fag City is one of the first two blogs to be recognized by Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation [the other is Guerrilla Glass, a “post-glass art” blog project by Anjali Srinivasan and Yuka Otani.]
The Arts Writers program has danced around the new media for three grant cycles now, but this is the first time their solicitation explicitly mentioned blogs. Needless to say, it’s about time, and Paddy’s project is highly deserving and should lend the Arts Writers program some nice publicity and online cred.
Which is ironic, since the reason I applied for a grant last cycle was to leverage CC’s and the Warhol Foundation’s credibility for what would otherwise have to be seen as a cockamamie scheme. I had proposed a blog about the art history of satelloons. The idea was to consider NASA’s Project Echo inflatable satellites–instantly obsolete but spectacularly beautiful mylar spheres which were visible to the naked eye–as an exhibition, a propagandistic and aesthetic exercise akin to the US government’s better-known Cold War-era promotion of Abstract Expressionism abroad.
That would give me the impetus to research and document the development and history of the satelloons from primary source material. But it would also be a stepping-off point to explore the history of art and politics in the Space Age, Pop and Minimalist contexts; the history of art and technology collaborations, including the artists who worked with Bell Labs, a key Project Echo participant. [I especially wanted to see if I could trace the use of mylar balloons from Project Echo through Bell Labs’ black box to Andy Warhol.] By looking at scientifically driven production from an art world vantage point, the satelloon blog would question the defining premises of art, especially intentionality and the aesthetic experience of the viewer. It’s all stuff I will probably pursue here with slightly less urgency over the next year or so.
Just as it was reassuring to see Paddy’s excellent writing recognized, it made me feel slightly less marginal that at least two other grant recipients have projects that resonate with my satelloon idea, if not quite overlap. Art historian Douglas Kahn was awarded a grant for Arts of the Spectrum: In the Nature of Electromagnetism, a book about an intriguing vein of art&science interplay. And Annette Leddy, from the Getty Institute, is writing an article on Robert Watts’ “Space Age Home,” an artist in the 1960’s who apparently “extensively re-imagined the home, its furnishings, and its gardens in terms of an ironic Space Age aesthetic.” No idea, but it sounds like the future to me. Or at least the history of the future.
see the full list of Arts Writer grant recipients and their projects [artswriters.org]

Note To Self Re: Dome Projection Using Spherical Mirror

There’s nothing specific on the horizon, but the way things are going, what with all the domes and mirrored domes and Buckminster Fuller and movies and all around here…
I mean, you never really know–and by you, I obviously mean me–so I thought I’d just go ahead and put this link to Paul Bourke’s patented system for projecting onto a dome using a spherical mirror, which he developed in 2003.
Actually, it seems to use a hemispherical mirror, and there are apparently inflatable domes for all your portable indoor planetarium needs–according to the FAQ, a 3m inflatable dome is ideal for half a dozen adults or a dozen children–and seamless works better than paneled.
Another note to self: I don’t care what they call them in Wollongong, but I will not be calling them Sphemirs. And probably not Mirrordomes, though that is much better.
Dome projection using a spherical mirror
Variously referred to as “sphemir” or “mirrordome”,
Conceived by the author in 2003
[uwa.edu.au via city of sound]

For The Record, I Am Not Daniel Young & Christian Giroux

Though with their combination of Ikean sculpture, reconstituted Cold War satellites, and geodesic dome playthings, I’m now not sure I’m not actually just a random projection of their collaborative imagination.
Daniel Young and Christian Giroux began making work together in 2004. The first collaboration was Fullerene, a giant, but light mobile structure of aluminum and bicycle tires that the duo rolled around Scope Miami in 2004.
Then in 2006, they showed a trio of sculptures that took the forms [and names] of US, Canadian, and Soviet spy satellites from the 1960’s. [Quirky Canada has own laws, spy satellites!] Both the spherical Fullerene, and the satellite shapes, which were originally designed for gravity-free orbit, are pleasantly disorienting riffs on the Minimalist sculptural challenges of Judd & others, who rejected a base, thereby launching objects into space.
And then this past summer, the duo’s show at Diaz Contemporary in Toronto consisted of sculptures made from custom-fabricated aluminum boxes and Ikea tables. They’re like narrower, harder-edged, and Juddier echos of Rachel Harrison’s and Isa Genzken’s sophisticated pastiches. And I mean that in the best possible way.
Daniel Young & Christian Giroux – Work [cgdy.com via tagbanger]

PAGEOS: Second Generation Satelloon For Stellar Triangulation

When I first discovered satelloons a few months ago, I admit, I was a little disappointed to have fallen so hard for the first generation satelloons of Project Echo. This disappointment kicked in when I saw this photo of the PAGEOS satelloon being tested before its June 1966 launch. It wasn’t much bigger than Echo I [31m vs 30m; Echo II was 40m]; what set it apart was PAGEOS’ incredible mirror-like skin.
Which, I find out, was by design. PAGEOS, short for PAssive GEOdetic Satellite, was used in the impressive-sounding Worldwide Satellite Triangulation Network, an international collaboration to create a single global characterization of the earth’s surface, shape, and measurements.
Geodesy, the science of measuring and representing the earth, helped identify things like plate tectonics and the equatorial bulge. From what I can tell, the WSTN involved taking pictures of the PAGEOS against identical star fields from different points on the earth’s surface, then backing out precise values for latitude, longitude, and elevation from the photos’ variations.
Stellar geodesy was obsoleted during PAGEOS’ lifetime by lasers [more on that later], but not before the WSTN, under the direction of the Swiss scientist Dr. Hellmut Schmid, was able to calculate the accuracy of locations on the earth’s surface to within 4m. According to Wikipedia, between 1966 and 1974, Schmid’s project, using “all-electronic BC-4 cameras” installed in 46 stations around the free world [the USSR and China were not participating for some reason], produced “some 3000 stellar plates.” Photographs of the stars with a 100-foot-wide metallic sphere–designed to capture and reflect the sun’s light, and placed in an orbit that provided maximum visibility–moving in front of them.
I’d love to see some of these plates, or find any useful reference sources beyond the kind of scattershot, autotranslated Wikipedia articles.
Balloon Satellite [wikipedia]
Stellar Triangulation
Hellmut Schmid