Artist Creates 11-Acre Aerial Portrait Based on Photograph

30,000 wooden stakes, 2,000 tonnes of soil, and 2,000 tonnes of sand. That’s what it took for Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada and his team of local Belfastian volunteers, businesses, and contractors to create WISH, an aerial portrait of an anonymous girl depicted in a photograph taken by Rodríguez-Gerada.

Created for the 2013 Ulster Bank Belfast International Festival at Queen’s, WISH spans 11 acres of land in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter and is the largest land art portrait in the UK and Ireland. WISH is just that—“a pure and simple wish for the future,” with the hopeful innocence of a child. It’s a spectacle best seen by plane or helicopter, as in this video:

Rodríguez-Gerada is known for his urban and land art, and has been creating anonymous, time-based portraits to raise awareness and create dialogue about social issues since the 90’s, long before it became popular.

“These portraits [transform] local, anonymous residents into social icons, giving relevance to an individual’s contribution to the community and touching upon the legacy that each life has to offer,” he explained. “[They] gradually deteriorate. They become a metaphor of the fading of life, of fame and of the things we first thought were so important.”

aerial portrait queen's belfast international festival

WISH is Rodríguez-Gerada’s largest artwork to date.

While symbolism is clearly important in art, economic impact is also of utmost concern to Rodríguez-Gerada. As such, he uses only local, natural materials that harbor no negative environmental impacts, such as charcoal—and for WISH, mountains of dirt, sand, and rocks.

Rodríguez-Gerada mapped out WISH in a detailed grid system using GPS technology and then on the ground with stakes and builders’ line. Stake checkpoints and line boundaries showed volunteers where to place the sand and dirt during the four weeks that the project was under construction.

“Working at very large scales becomes a personal challenge but it also allows me to bring attention to important social issues, the size of the piece is intrinsic to the value of its message,” said Rodríguez-Gerada.

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