THE gentle giant presiding over of this year's Splendour in the Grass Festival is a 36m by 26m hot air balloon called the Skywhale.
The brainchild of Australian sculptor Patricia Piccinini, the balloon can only be described as one of the most intricate and unique air balloons ever to grace the Northern Rivers skies.
It is the chandelier of the hot air balloon world.
Project manager Rebecca Townsend saw the Skywhale in Canberra last year for the Capital City's centenary celebrations "and I thought it would be great for Splendour so we proposed it".
The Skywhale arrived in the Northern Rivers last month and took a test flight by Byron Bay Ballooning staff at Tyagarah.
"The structure and architecture of the balloon inside is quite amazing," Ms Townsend said.
The sculpture is made of polyester fibre with an interior coating to protect it from heat, like hot air balloons, but Skywhale has been painted using a special technique which makes it mythically life-like.
"It's been printed very carefully by the artist so it looks like skin. It's not bright primary colours, it really looks like an animal, and that's what gives it an artistic aspect," Ms Townsend added.
"The guys from Byron Bay Ballooning said it's quite an amazing accomplishment to produce it."
The Skywhale will only be up in the air for a total of nine hours during the festival.
At $3500 for three hours flying high above Splendour, producing the artwork's exhibition is an expensive exercise requiring an Australian-registered pilot plus five staff.
The Skywhale uses liquid propane as a fuel to heat the balloon.
"This fuel is considered very clean in comparison to other fuels available," Ms Townsend said.
The Skywhale will be tethered to the ground during the festival to allow festival-goers to have a closer look to the artwork.
Ms Piccinini said the balloon was "something of a meditation on nature and evolution", which are two things which fascinated her.
"Perhaps the Skywhale is a genetically modified creature or perhaps it is some undiscovered species, or perhaps it is something mythological and entirely symbolic. I think that is up to the viewer. I do think that whatever she is, she is a benign and wonderful presence."
The artwork caused some controversy during its inception in Canberra, receiving a mixed reception when it was unveiled in May 2013.
Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said at the time her eyes "nearly fell out of
her head" when she first saw a diagram of The Skywhale's design, but she had come to like it and believed that it would challenge the perception of Canberra as a boring city.
Others questioned its beauty and its value for money, costing about $300,000 to construct.
Ms Piccinini said the artwork, with its 10 breasts as wings and peaceful face, is not meant to be beautiful or ugly, but hopes to incite the public to think.
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