‘Let us deliver mankind from the ancient, universal tyranny!
‘What ancient, universal tyranny, you cry.
‘Why, the ancient, universal tyranny of gravity!’
During the summer of 2014, artist and writer James Bridle flew a balloon from the roof of Bold Tendencies, a multi-storey car park and art space in Peckham, South London. Attached to the balloon were a variety of payloads, from darknet routers to aerial cameras, with the results of its experiments shared publicly and online.
The balloon, a large, military-grade helikite, ascended from a specially commissioned structure designed by London based architecture and design studio TDO, consisting of a rooftop hangar, workshop and exhibition space, where the project was documented from June through September.
'The Right to Flight' took its name from a treatise written by the Parisian photographer and balloonist Nadar in 1866. He proclaimed that mankind had a right, even a duty, to ascend to the heavens. His friend the novelist Victor Hugo urged him to "deliver mankind from the ancient, universal tyranny of gravity!" Nadar was the first person to take aerial photographs, and led the daring effort to break the Siege of Paris in 1870. But ballooning has also taken a darker turn: from the Zeppelin raids of the First World War, to the use of surveillance balloons in Iraq and Afghanistan, and along the US/Mexico border. Using an aerostat designed for just that purpose, The Right to Flight investigated ways to return the powers of surveillance and omniscience to the surveilled, and attempted to rediscover Nadar's utopias in the possibilities of contemporary technologies, while making its own claim on London's increasingly crowded skyline.
James wrote a series of letters from the balloon over the course of the summer, telling its stories and exploring its findings.