Elliptical Research Foundation
A platform for collaborative artistic research, serving as a point of convergence for a network of researchers across different fields, interests, and attitudes toward knowledge production.

Flight on a Flock of Small Wings (Kite Project)

Sarah Stein & Enrico Piras, 2013
Performance ⋅⋅ photographs ⋅⋅ video

This project is based on the Robert Smithson text Towards the Development of an Air Terminal Site (1967), and the tetrahedral kites designed by Alexander Graham Bell. Bell became involved in the search for a "full-sized flying machine" and in 1902 showed that it was possible to build large flying machines without the increasing weight. Instead of building one large wing, his proof was based on a whole 'flock' of small wings in the form of tetrahedrons.

This collaborative workshop, performance, and video project, will be displayed and developed between Sardinia, Italy, and Templehof, a disused airport terminal in Berlin, Germany.

It will be presented in part on BCome Blog.

  • Alexander Graham Bell, tetrahedral kite

  • Alexander Graham Bell, tetrahedral kite


This project began with Alexander Graham Bell, the scientist and inventor mostly known for the invention of the telephone. Bell was interested in the problems of aerodynamics and aeronautics; he designed kites using tetragonal units, based on crystalline structures. A crystal structure is composed of a pattern, a set of atoms arranged in a particular way, and a lattice exhibiting long-range order and symmetry. Patterns are located upon the points of a lattice, an array of points periodically repeating in three dimensions. The points can be thought of as forming identical tiny boxes, called unit cells, that fill the space of the lattice. The kites designed by Bell for his experiments were based on this tetragonal crystal structure. As Robert Smithson noticed, studying Graham Bell's experiments with kites, "A visual language of modules seems to have emerged from Bell's investigations. Points, lines, areas, or volumes establish the syntax of sites". By trying to understand what both Smithson and Bell were trying to explore in terms of visual language, we found different anecdotes about Bell's experiments with kites and language. After inventing the telephone he was concerned with other ways of translating language through different means: another invention that he believed was more important than the telephone was the photo-phone, also known as the radio-phone: this is a telecommunications device which allowed for the transmission of speech on a beam of light. The voice was translated into a beam of light with variations in intensity that would correspond to specific intensity of the voice vibrations, in a purely visual language translated into light. In the case of the kites it seems that Bell developed a visual language based on their movements and visual properties, as translating the alphabet into a series of actions that the kite operator should act out in order to communicate from a distance with other kite operators or just simple observers. These fragmentary discoveries constitute an interesting terrain for the exploration of the potential of structures, costumes as personal architectures, and objects (in this case the kites) for developing a visual language that transcends the linguistic field and melts into a visual practice related to expression and communication.