Doug Aitken’s latest work is a 100-ft-tall mirrored hot air balloon
American artist and filmmaker Doug Aitken has unleashed a 100-foot-tall, mirrored hot air balloon that will fly across Massachusetts until July 28. As the silver behemoth catches air currents on its westward voyage, its surface will reflect everything in its path as it touches down along the way, from the grassy dunes of a Martha’s Vineyard lagoon to the wooded hills and verdant meadows of the Berkshires.
Aitken, who has worked with mirror before, is known for creating installations that blend film and architecture, site-specific interventions and experiential productions which often encourage people to actively participate in the work. In recent years, he has installed mirrored houses in the desert outside Palm Springs and on the snow-covered mountains of Gstaad, Switzerland. And in 2016, he lowered three mirrored sculptures into the sea off the California coast as “pavilions” for divers to explore.
“I love that idea that the viewer can seek out something, that you can discover something which is time-based, which is in one place at one moment at a time and then it disappears again,” Aitken told CNN Style in an interview at his studio in LA.
For this latest work, titled “New Horizon,” Aitken sought expert insight from the likes of NASA and a community of hot air ballooners in New Mexico. Not only is it a work of art but an ecological mission, of sorts, commissioned by the Trustees, a nonprofit preservation and conservation organization that protects 118 natural, cultural and historical sites across Massachusetts.
Along its journey the balloon will touch down at different cultural and natural points of interest, where musicians, artists, scientists and other creative and intellectual heavyweights will convene to discuss the Earth’s future. (The balloon will inevitably make some surprise landings, given that hot air balloons can’t be steered very precisely.) At night the balloon’s high-tech surface will illuminate, transforming into a massive light sculpture, responding to surrounding noise and activity, creating a “very specific moment in time that can burn hot and disappear again,” as Aitken told CNN.
It’s an epic creative undertaking requiring impressive feats of engineering and coordination. But, for all the work involved, at the end of its two-week run, like many other temporary public art works of this scale, it will cease to exist.
It’s not easy to nail down a description of the project. “When we started developing the ‘New Horizon’ it became clear that it was something really new and different and innovative because it was just so hard to articulate what it was exactly,” said Pedro Alonzo, who has guest curated the Trustees’ ongoing “Art & the Landscape” program, and who selected Aitken for the commission.
Aitken described the project as an “experience” or “happening” — a term with roots in the late 1950s, when pathbreaking artists added lights, sound, projections, film and performance to installations that frequently involved audience participation and only existed temporarily.