The kinetic artwork “Ode to Santos-Dumont” is artist Chris Burden’s final work. The piece is inspired by Alberto Santos-Dumont’s 20th century innovations in aviation. At Art Basel 2017 Unlimited, Gagosian gallery presented the work as one of the highlights of the show.
Chris Burden: Ode to Santos-Dumont / Art Basel 2017 Unlimited. June 13, 2017.
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Alberto Santos-Dumont is considered the father of aviation in France. He flew an airship held aloft with a hydrogen filled balloon to cruise the boulevards of Paris at the turn of the century. In 1901 he won the coveted Deutsch de la Meurthe Prize when he flew his airship around the Eiffel Tower. I have been inspired by the imagination and experimentation of Santos-Dumont.
Through the inspiration of Santos-Dumont’s airships, I enlisted master machinist John Biggs to hand craft a 1/4 scale replica of 1903 De Dion gasoline motor. After working on and testing the motor for 7 years, the motor was completed and functional in 2010. In 2014, after much experimentation with propellers, building the gondola out of aluminum Erector parts, installing the engine and mounting mechanisms, and after working with a balloon manufacturer to produce the cigar shaped balloon, we employed our knowledge of engineering and physics to realize the sculpture Ode to Santos-Dumont.
The airship sculpture, Ode to Santos-Dumont, is a highly balanced and refined mechanism. The airship travels indoors in a 60 foot circle. It is tethered from the inboard side with very thin, almost invisible threads to central hard points in the ceiling and the ground. The balloon is filled with helium to neutral buoyancy and the motor is just powerful enough to push the balloon in a 60 foot circle. If the airship were to deviate from its 60 foot circle, the geometry of the tethers would force the balloon to turn in a smaller tighter circle, which would cause the motor to work harder. As a result, the airship and its motor always seek the 60 foot circle, which is the path of least resistance, or the sweet spot. The sculpture Ode to Santos-Dumont was made possible through the ability, inquisitive and good nature, determination, and patience of master craftsman and inventor John Biggs.
The piece is made of aircraft aluminum, carbon fiber, fiber glass, nylon, polyurethane, 1200 cubic feet of helium, and a hand tooled 1/4 scale replica of a 1903 gasoline motor. Dimensions are: 16 foot height, 60 foot circumference. Gondola: 24 inches × 21 feet, 6 inches. Balloon: 8 × 40 feet (needs exhibition space with 18 foot high ceiling and 72 foot circumference).