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The Ornithopter, Hong Kong

The pursuit of flight has always been a fantasy of humans over the course of history. From Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch of the ornithopter to the first bi-plane test flight across the Hong Kong airspace in 1911, humankind went through countless unceasing trials, setbacks and failures. This artwork is inspired by the mechanics of the flying machines. Installed with a pair of double-stack flapping wings and bicycle’s mechanical system, the Ornithopter perches on the lawn, casting flickering shadows to create an enjoyable shaded public space. It interacts with the public and lets them experience the journey of restless hard work in realising one’s dream.

A triangular geometry that is strong yet light has been used based on old plane structures. All steel structures are connected in delicate pin joints, making it easy to be relocated and reinstalled anywhere in the future. The structures float above the ground and are supported off the linear wood bench, reminiscing the bi-plane which is about to take off.

Wings cantilever out from the structure, offering extensive shades to the platform below, where people gather to ride the bikes, rest on the bench, lie on the floor, or simply hang around to appreciate the moving gears.

Once a visitor pedals on the bicycle wheels, the pair of double-stacked wings slowly flap up and down. The wings’ interweaving fins converge and diverge periodically, encouraging visitors to grit their teeth and keep pedaling on. Light, shadow and rhythm can all be played in real time by the participants. Two bicycle machines are installed where the faster wheel regulates the speed of the flapping wings. Therefore, the two participants would curiously interact with each other too. Through interacting with the artwork, the public can feel their power to transform the space around them.

As the wheels spin the system activates. The oil tank beneath the bench would pump out liquid to drive the motor concealed in the hovering white mesh. A motor rotates the axis which drives the fins’ tips up and down, flapping the whole wings in a precise rhythm; Meticulous calibration results in mesmerizing interwoven patterns. If the flapping wings symbolize the pursuit of dreams, then pedaling of the bikes symbolizes that we are taking action, and persistently working out our dreams.

The Ornithopter creates a dialogue with the public, bringing the users’ influence into the work that can instantly transform the surrounding environment. The rhythm of the flapping wings echoes with the speed of the city, generating energy to activate the public space.

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