Wail of the Whale: Life-size whale sculpture makes a splash on Lakeside Green

A student dances in front of the whale as a part of Earth Day festivities. Photo credit: Sam Peene

Students were blown out of the water last week at the sight of a 65-ft inflatable sperm whale on display in the middle of campus, demanding the attention of students and professors alike.

The sculpture, constructed out of ripstop nylon and brought to life by a positive-pressure fan, was conceptualized by fine arts professor Dr. Billie Lynn and cultivated with the help of her students.

Ahead of Earth Day, the life-size sperm whale was put on display by Lakeside Green at the end of last week, with accompanying dance and musical performances on Thursday afternoon, April 20.

For the first performance, Lynn collaborated with the Frost School of Music Dance Program with over thirty dance students to create a performance art piece titled “The Wail for the Whale”. Frost student Jacques Yarris accompanied the dancers, playing along to their rhythmic movements.

The second event on Thursday featured cellist Ester Baker, a first year doctoral student of musical arts at the Frost School of Music.

“Professor Lin asked me if I would consider playing with this whale in some sort of way, and she came up with the idea of backlighting and playing inside,” Baker said. “It was really cool because it really felt like I was swallowed by a whale.”

With just a cello, chair and a microphone, Baker improvised a cello piece for nearly thirty minutes, filling the atmosphere with sounds and vocals to mimic that of a whale’s call.

“I did some research on whale sounds. The sperm whale is known for the clicking sounds that they use to communicate. With my interpretation on the cello, I was thinking about what kind of conversation might happen if I was inside of a whale,” Baker said.

Senior Rohin Vaidya holds up a "Save the Whales" sign in his Orca costume at the Hug the Lake Earth Day celebration surrounding Lake Osceola on Friday, April 21.
Senior Rohin Vaidya holds up a "Save the Whales" sign in his Orca costume at the Hug the Lake Earth Day celebration surrounding Lake Osceola on Friday, April 21. Photo credit: Reese Putnam

Through designing highly complex and interactive sculptures, Lynn has brought attention to the global climate crisis and the human impact on both land and marine ecosystems.

This particular piece was inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the story of a captain of a ship seeking revenge on a giant white sperm whale.

“I was inspired from the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville, and I thought it was a great analogy or metaphor for the insanity we have about oil, because whales were hunted almost to extinction for oil,” Lynn said.

After reading Melville’s work, Lynn searched for a deeper meaning behind the whale depicted in the story, seeing how the whale could represent something larger and more pervasive.

“It’s clear that the whale is the ‘other’, sort of the ultimate ‘other’, or the unknowable. And he hates it because it’s unknowable. It seems to be this sort of ultimate, resonant, poetic, prophetic story of our relationship with the world now. There’s so much hatred of the ‘other’, and what is around us is really unknown,” Lynn said.

While this theme of human impact on the environment seems to traverse the body of her work, the artist statement on her website emanates a deeper purpose.

“I strive to make pieces in which the viewer interface is both the form and function of the piece. I want people to remember themselves, in much the same way that babies discover their fingers,” Lynn writes.

Many of Lynn’s students at the events expressed their appreciation for Lynn’s role both as an artist and a teacher, inspiring them to make an impact on their community.

“Being in Billy’s class is awesome because she does big projects like this, and she’s always pushing us to make larger and more impactful pieces,” said sophomore fine arts and marine affairs major Leah Henseler. “Being able to kind of see how something like this comes together is really cool and important.”