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The Flying Kakapo project


By Paul Middleton / Chiang Mai Mail

“In his book, The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins says ‘Not only has the kakapo forgotten how to fly, it has also forgotten that it has forgotten how to fly. Apparently, a worried kakapo will sometimes run up a tree and jump out of it, whereupon, it flies like a brick, and lands in a graceless heap on the ground,’” said Hunt Rettig, an artist from the US, speaking about his latest project. “I want everyone to ask, in what ways are we similar to the Kakapo?”

Hunt Rettig moved to Chiang Mai with his wife and children for one year when the Flying Kakapo project was conceived. His two daughters, Addy and Juna, attended classes at PTIS and enjoyed the change of scenery and culture, finding things here to be so different from their life in Aspen, Colorado, USA.

The Flying Kakapo is in essence a thirty-five foot long bamboo bird which is now suspended in a teak plantation near the Four Seasons Resort in Mae Rim. Such was the scope of the project that it took ten weeks from conception to completion, and three days and twelve men to get the bird up and suspended in the trees. Hunt jokes, “I figured it must have weighed about 450 pounds, and so big that someone could probably have used a ladder to live inside it!”

Despite the grand scale of the project, Rettig was able to call upon plenty of help to keep the project on track and for the most part, on schedule. Two Grade 12 Prem students working on their IB diploma, Bank and Katy, were regularly on hand to help manufacture the bird, as well as to organise the forty extra students who turned out to help finish the bird in the heat of late April sun as part of the school’s Earth Day celebrations. “Katy and Bank were godsends. I think our time together became a relaxing escape for them from their hectic schedules - until I made them the generals in command of forty students,” Hunt said. It would appear that having a fun time and working in a relaxed atmosphere is very important to him as he went on to say, “If I had to give all of the students who helped a grade, I would have given them all 94%, just shy of an A+ because I was hoping to have more water fights towards the end of the day.”

Hunt, usually a painter rather than a sculptor, is now back in his home town of Aspen, where he is working in his studio on much more familiar territory. “The bird was a one-off, but it taught me to continue to have fun thinking outside of the box."  About 98% of the material Hunt used to make the bird was natural materials. “I’ve always known about the inherent value of bamboo, but now that I’ve manhandled it I have a new-found respect for it.”

Despite the relatively biodegradable nature of bamboo and the other materials used, Hunt has arranged for the bird to be removed once it begins to deteriorate. “We talked extensively about a plan to dismantle the bird – leaving no trace, recycling some of the materials and properly disposing the non-recyclables – and as I knew I would not be in Chiang Mai to oversee the process, I contacted the caretaker of the property. He assured me that once the bird started to fall down his work associates would make sure the bird would be removed properly.”

Three months later the bird is still flying high and, despite the heavy rains and local flooding, it still appears to be in very good shape – and still attracting curious glances from bemused passers-by.

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