Inflatable Extravaganza

The world is filled with strange and wondrous things, and inflatable objects have to be high on the manmade list.

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That’s Castle of Vooruit, a sculptural installation suspended over the city of Berlin by Turkish artist Ahmet Ogut, and it’s the poster child (literally) for the “Floating Utopias” exhibit at Singapore’s ArtScience Museum. Covering the world of inflated objects from the late eighteenth century to giant bunny rabbits less than a decade old, this exhibit is wacky and fascinating. You can learn bizarre and useless things — for example, I loved that the French Montgolfiere, the first balloon to take passengers up into the sky in 1783, also carried a sheep, a duck, and a rooster (below left).

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The material in this exhibit is arranged thematically — it purports to offer “the social history of inflatable objects” — and you start out in a room that looks very loosely on Balloon Fever (the mania for all things balloon that swept Europe in the late 1700s and early 1800s).

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Aerostat, Academie de Dijon, 1784

But this space seems to be more specifically focused on balloons and protest, since the centerpiece is Mirror Barracade by Tools for Action:

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These giant silver cubes were designed to be used at a Neo-Nazi protest in Germany, an art-meets-politics intersection of reflection and function.

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The walls of the room are hung with with prints and photographs that portray other ways in which inflatable objects have been used in politics, including this voting rights balloon from Britain in 1909:fullsizeoutput_4bd1.jpeg

You can also explore how balloons have been used in times of war, both in ways that you might expect (here, in the creation of the first air mail service during the Prussian siege of Paris in 1870 and 1871) …

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… and in ways you might not (here, in the protection of ground stations from aircraft bombings during the Siege of Leningrad in WWII):

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But while there’s a good deal to be learned at this exhibit from the small prints on the wall, the real fun here is in the giant inflated objects.

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That’s the accurately-named Somehow I Don’t Feel Comfortable, by Momoyo Torimitsu. It’s very pink, very tall, and very creepy.

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Somewhat friendlier is Dawn Ng’s Walter

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… another giant rabbit (what is it with giant inflatable bunnies)?

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Walter was designed by a local artist to travel throughout Singapore, and he’s been everywhere from shophouses …

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Once Upon a House

… to HDBs:

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Mirror Mirror

You can also see the moon!

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This was, by far, my favorite part of the exhibit. Covered in high-resolution images captured by a NASA camera, Luke Jerram’s glowing Museum of the Moon allows viewers to contemplate the moon at a scale of 1:600,000.

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You can lie out on a lawn chair underneath it …

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… or walk up to see the craters …

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… as if they were right in front of you.

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I wasn’t sure what to make of this giant spiral, A. to A. (Elica) by Franco Mazzucchelli …

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…  but the SurvivaBall suits really made me smile.

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The activist duo known as the Yes Men created SurvivaBall suits in 2006, when they pretended to be representatives from Halliburton at an insurance industry conference. They pitched these suits as all-around survival gear …

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… which would “sustainably protect managers from natural or climate disturbances.” If you see their presentation video, you just have to laugh.

fullsizeoutput_4bebAs you walk through the exhibit, you can see that inflatable objects have evoked all sorts of imaginative experiments, from their heyday in the early 1800s …

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Etienne-Gaspard Robert’s sketch of Minerva, a proposed research vessel

… to the “let’s try anything” era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Here are Instant City, a 1971 build-it-yourself-with-plastic-and-staple-guns, no-rules living experiment on the island of Ibiza …

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… and Waterwalk Tube, a piece of subversive Dutch art by the Eventstructure Research Group …

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… that managed to catch the eye of the US military (which was also trying wacky things of its own in the early ’70s):

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We left the exhibit wishing that we had been able to interact with the inflatable objects; it seemed a shame to have so many blown-up things around and yet not be able to touch any them. There is one space where visitors can learn to build out of plastic bags …

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… but while you can see how Tomas Saraceno’s Museo Aero Solar might get formed …

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… you can’t touch it or see it aloft. So we departed feeling a little disappointed. While we enjoyed Floating Utopias, we found ourselves wanting more — more science, more history, and more stuff (the exhibit is, on the whole, surprisingly small).

As a side note, we were both wearing red to celebrate Singapore’s National Day.

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Happy 64th, Singapore!

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