From- San Antonio Express News
Artist wants to give Texas a giant banana
The French gave us the Statute of Liberty, Mexico sort of gave us Texas, and now Canada wants to give us a giant helium-filled yellow banana.
More specifically, Montreal artist Cesar Saez hopes to send a 1,000-foot-long banana dirigible into the southern sky next year to make giant loops over the Lone Star State.
Canadian artist Cesar Saez hopes to send a 1,000-foot-long banana dirigible over Texas next year.
Question: What do you think about a 'banana' floating over Texas?
"I want to bring some humor to the Texas sky," said Saez, 38, who's well known in Quebec for his public works of art.
"It's an artistic statement and a spectacle. One thing I love is the issue of truth or hoax, and I love the ambiguity," said the Argentina-born artist.
But this is no joke. If all goes well, the giant bamboo and paper banana will be launched from a site in Mexico in summer 2008 and then drift eastward over Texas before it disintegrates.
"This will be the largest airship ever built, and it's going to stay in the sky longer than any balloon ever did, using 19th-century technology," he said.
Even at a stratospheric altitude of 20 miles, the yellow fruit will be visible to earthbound Texans, said Saez, who so far has raised about a fifth of the estimated $1 million he needs for the project.
Some very responsible people, including the Canada Council for the Arts, which contributed $15,000, are taking him at his word.
"There's no question this is a serious artistic project," said Donna Balkan, a spokeswoman for the national arts organization.
"It's a work of public art, but what makes this project unusual is that he's using the sky as his venue rather than a park or street corner," she said.
Saez's proposed project is in the tradition of the avant-garde artist Christo, made famous for large-scale public art works.
Christo may be best known for his works of "wrapping," such as with national monuments in France and Italy, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Mechanical engineer Manny Teran, whose Michigan company nearSpace Technology is providing consulting, says the project is a scientific challenge even if the artistic vision is a bit unclear.
"I'm not exactly sure what it's all about. For me, its just another opportunity to work on what I'm passionate about
: lighter-than-air aircraft," he said.
"No one has ever done this before. Things are moving forward and I'm excited to be part of it."
In Texas, reaction among state officials to the political and security implications of a giant yellow fruit drifting around overhead has so far been guarded.
Spokespeople for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick didn't respond to questions posed Friday about the project.
After several hours of consultation and review, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry released an enigmatic statement.
"If it works, people will probably go ape over it. We have to be careful, though, because putting bananas in orbit could create a slippery situation," Robert Black said.
Up in the Panhandle, Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, said he is bracing for a deluge of extraterrestrial sightings about 18 months from now from his high-plains constituents.
"There will obviously be flying saucer stories and all kinds of stuff like that. It will be wonderful, and I don't think it violates our airspace," Chisum said.
"I suggest we all have a banana pudding together and watch it go over."
Officials at the Federal Aviation Administration were caught off-guard last week when apprised of the space project.
"My first reaction is, are you being taken for a ride? I had some trouble with my folks in Washington, they didn't believe it," said Roland Herwig, an agency spokesman in the Southwest regional office.
Though Herwig wasn't sure what federal agency should be consulted, he was certain that someone somewhere would need to sign off on the project.
"You can't just put an object over the United States without checking with agencies and organizations," he said.
"They'd have to coordinate with the U.S. Space Command and others, anyone from homeland security to the FAA, for something that goes to those altitudes," Herwig said.
Saez, however, says his lawyers believe the space where the banana will float is beyond the reach of earthly authorities.
"Space out there is like the high seas, even freer. There is no jurisdiction, no flags," he said.
Space buffs and scientists offered mixed predictions about whether the project would come off as planned, with the fruit remaining in sight for several weeks.
"The problem is stratospheric winds will blow the thing away from Texas," said Forrest Mims, author of "The Country Scientist" column, which appears in the San Antonio Express-News.
"Secondly, at that altitude, this thing will not be that big. It will be hard to see. And they'll have to use high-pressure technology or the thing will burst."
But Anne Thompson, a former NASA ozone specialist now teaching at Penn State University, said the project is not implausible.
"It sounds reasonable to me. Other people do these very long duration balloons for scientific work. I don't know that they go that high," she said.
"It's art and engineering. I think it's fantastic. I love Christo. I like someone trying to do something different."
Why did Saez choose a banana, and why did he also choose Texas, home to NASA, George W. Bush and the Alamo? The artist conceded that launching a giant cabbage over Pennsylvania, for example, would not have the same impact.
And although he was circumspect on the phone about the concept, he gave away more on his Web site, www.geostationarybananaovertexas.com
A banana, it seems, symbolizes many things, from comic to phallic.
"In the land of dreamers and the ones with faith, a banana appearing in the Texas sky might seem like a message. As a signal," reads the concept page on the site.
"It is in Texas because it has oil and a lot of Wal-Marts, Exxons and Halliburtons (and the Ranch). It is a buffoon act, trying to impress. ... Texan dominant Aerospace and all the Gun Clubs."
There's a pic of it on mysa.com