by Insiders Dunedin

In response to the proposed hotel development on Dunedin’s waterfront, skeptics asked that the height of the project (96m) be demonstrated by the developers in the form of a balloon at that height so residents could see how it would look from their kitchen window. The developers in question declined the suggestion, but it was then accepted by Melbourne-based artist Shane McGrath, for his new show at the Blue Oyster Art Project Space titled Gelber LuftBallon.

The concept was simple; McGrath constructed a hot air balloon, tied a 96m rope to it, and unwound it up into the Dunedin skyline. Air ships are something of a theme in his work, having used rockets, planes and zeppelins to stand in for ideas of escapism, exploration and tragedy.  Permission from the landowners to launch from the exact site was declined, but on Monday April 15 his crew managed to unleash it nearby from the Customhouse Restaurant. The process of assembling the balloon, and the results of the experiment, were documented by both still and moving images.

The artist is keen to stress that the work isn’t a protest piece, and that before he began (or even once he has finished) he has no particular feelings about the decision that is being made. He notes in the text that accompanies the show that it is a decision that concerns the city as a whole, that has the potential to impact dramatically on the city’s future and that he sees his work as a catalyst for debate, something to encourage the ongoing dialogue.

Shane McGrath may position himself as an impartial observer, but when it came to transferring his hot air balloon from experiment to exhibition, he drew on plenty of heartfelt and passionate responses from Dunedin locals less inclined to sit on the fence. In the AV space, a video of his adventure plays on a loop, while the balloon - a far cry from being a blip on the horizon – looms ominously in the middle of the gallery space. Then, from floor to ceiling, the entire way around the Blue Oyster, he has copied and displayed the submissions made by the pubic during the hotel’s resource consent process. Submissions that oppose the proposal in its current form are stamped with a red “X”. Submissions in favour are unstamped. Collectively, they compose a very striking image. Individually, they can make for interesting reading.


Gelber LuftBallon takes the idea of art being a reflection of the society in which it is produced very literally. Here, on display, is a collection of responses, from the very brief to the very detailed, from a broad cross section of Dunedin society. If you’re at all interested in the debate as it has unfolded, you could do worse than spending an hour or two down at the Blue Oyster taking it all in.

Shane McGrath’s Gelber LuftBallon is on at the Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Moray Place, until May 25th. The artist will be present to talk about the show at 1pm on the final day. 

Post Submitted by Aaron Hawkins

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