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Airbags

a series of hand deployable ephemeral sculptures, 2012

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"Uncanny Hug"

Context

In Walter Kirn‘s novel "Up in the air", Ryan Bingham works for the "Career Transition Corporation" (CTC) firing people for client companys. He spends his life in airports, lobbies, lounges and rental cars. Furthermore, he gives motivational seminars, teaching people how to go through life carrying very light luggage. In those seminars, Bingham keeps explaining, that his audience shall fill an imaginary backpack with all the stuff of their daily lives including their furniture. He then encourages them to burn it in order to free themselves from such a heavy burden.


The novel was published in 2001 - only one year after Zygmunt Bauman‘s book "Liquid Modernity" and four years after Bourdieu‘s "La précarité est aujourd‘hui partout". They both describe the social fabric of the highly developed and affluent part of our planet as deeply shattered. Technological progress and thus rationalization do not create more jobs but rather fewer. And as the number of jobs seems to be shrinking, everybody is threatened by downsizing, streamlining, competitiveness and productivity. The idea of a secure job in a secure company is simply overcome. Zygmunt Bauman describes a „combined experience of insecurity (of position, entitlements and livelihood), of uncertainty (as to their continuation and future stability) and of unsafety (of one‘s body, one‘s self and their extensions: possessions, neighborhood, community)“ in which citizens need to develop a new mobility while the states‘ institutions cease to provide sufficient safety nets. The citizen of today can only count on and develop short-term loyalties towards people and employers. And even in those supposedly ever shorter relationships adaptiveness is highly welcome. But how to digest this contemporary condition? How to mould flexibility? And if we have burned all our stuff, what shall we still hold on to?

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"Elephant Feet or I started to walk 40cm below the ground"

 "Social Airbags" are a proposition for a format, or better a process, to incorporate or sculpturalize flexibility, the ever required almost instantaneous adaptation to fit an abundant number of situations, conversations, discourses, selection criteria, etc.. They are a series of explosive blow-up sculptures with a narrative character. They are wrapped up in small bags and can be attached to ankles, wrists, belly or neck. Unlike airbags in cars they are not triggered automatically, but can be activated at a specific moment - be it out of a need or an impulse. "Social Airbags" are deployed by pulling a handle and get fully blown up within seconds. As instantaneous short-term unfoldments, they serve, depending on the situation, as extensions to specific conversations, as signals for interests and abilities, as subversive interventions into everyday events, as spontaneous outburst and more. Yet they do not fit in every situation and must be used with care. They unfold their full potential and narrative when deployed at the right moment with the right twist. 

As the situations, asking for "Social Airbags", seem to grow in number after their first deployments in public space, the individual airbags conceived and presented here merely mark a starting point:

 

"Uncanny Hug" is a combination of multiple long, thin and twisted airbags that can shoot out of both sleeves of a jacket. They are like fingers that are extruded and rotated around their longitudinal axis. Yet they are not organized like the fingers of a hand. The airbags of "Uncanny Hug" spread out from the sleeves in many directions. Once deployed they make a handshake rather impossible and cast a shadow on most forms of physical contact.

 

"Elephant Feet or I started to walk 40cm below the ground" is a pair of airbags of equal size and form. They are worn around the ankles until they inflate and expand from underneath trousers or long skirts. "Elephant Feet" wrap the wearer‘s lower legs into columns of a diameter of 50cm from sole to knee, turning walking into a experience of shuffling through knee-high asphalt.

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"The Brick"

"The Brick" is the largest "Social Airbag" so far. It is worn around the waist like a cummerbund or broad sash. Fully inflated, it resembles a huge puzzle piece or a human body with short legs and head hanging perpendicular to the wearer‘s main body axis. It turns from an elegant piece of clothing into an obstacle that revolves around the center of the body. Several "The Brick"s can be attached together in rows to form a wall, or they can serve as protection not only for the individual wearer but for larger groups, making them more difficult to be handled or to be pushed around.

 


"You try to put me in a box?" consists of a changing number of small airbags in the shape of bubbles - almost resembling heads. Before they are inflated, they are almost invisible, worn like a scarf around the neck. During inflation they emerge in a flash out of the collar on all sides of the wearer's neck. The human blow-up heads - slightly smaller than real ones - start to flutter between shoulder and ear as if a terrified rabbit had ejected replicas of himself as decoys to facilitate his getaway.

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"You try to put me in a box?"

Produced with a production grant of Cultivamos Cultura for the exhibition "Emergências 2012", Guimaraes, Portugal.