Hanging from the ceilings of the Hawai‘i State Capitol’s House and Senate chambers are two spherical chandeliers, one encrusted with gold-plated globes, the other with nautilus shells. They are Sun and Moon, two kinetic light sculptures created by artist Otto Piene, a founding member of the collective Group ZERO, in 1969-70.
In the fall of 1970, when Piene was in town to dedicate the Capitol chandeliers, the museum hosted an exhibition—and a “happening.” On Saturday, September 19, Piene and a group of volunteers created Sky Lei, an inflatable flower made from 2,500 feet of polyethylene tubing that flew 1,000 feet over Kapi‘olani Park.
Museum staffers were understandably anxious—after all, each petal was slated to be longer than a Boeing 747. Staff made a weather contingency plan, consulted Navy engineers (who advised over 5,000 cubic feet of helium would be needed, or else the flower would appear “flabby”), and applied to the FAA for a permit for the “operation of a cluster of polyethylene balloons”
Piene’s wife assured assistant director Selden Washington that “all Otto’s past aerial events have come off as he planned them…with no loss of balloons or flying people, so I’m confident this one will, too.”
Indeed it did. The Sunday Star-Bulletin & Advertiser reported on the spectacle: “Finally the sausage tubes were tied and intertwined into shape and a cheer went up from the crowd as the great flower petal hung in the air, trailing red wind-socks.”