Ode to Santos Dumont, 2015

Basel 2017
7075 aircraft aluminum reproduction Erector parts, carbon fiber drive, fiberglass propeller, nylon cable, hand tooled ¼ scale replica of 1903 gasoline motor, polyurethane balloon, 1200 cubic feet of helium
Inspired by Santos Dumont’s 20th century innovations in aviation, Chris Burden created a functioning airship, which he fine-tuned over the course of the past decade. The artist described the impetus and engineering behind his ethereal flying sculpture as follows: ‘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 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 determination and patience of master craftsman and inventor John Biggs.’