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The Six Best Moments in Inflatable Art

A look at monuments to the plastic age.

By Ruby Lennon
June 04, 2013
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By Ruby Lennon
June 04, 2013
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If we had kept going with the stone age, bronze age, iron age system, we would be probably be somewhere in the plastic one, so it is little wonder that so many artists are passing over paintbrushes and kilns to experiment with the possibilities of inflation.

In a case of perfect irony, plastic might just be the most digestible of contemporary art ingredients. At home and abroad artists are taking full advantage of your inner child that knows all good parties need a jumping castle and dreams of seeing Woody Woodpecker at the Thanksgiving Parade in NYC (remember Mr Pitt?). Or, if you were a serious eight-year-old, the arguments for making art with a human-made material that is choking the planet practically write themselves.

Inspired by the current Mobile M+: Inflation! exhibition in Hong Kong, here is a mini-retrospective of our favourite inflatables.

Inflatable Guantanamo Bay prison cell, 2008

Starting at the serious end of the scale, let's go back to 2008 when Bush and Cheney were still kicking around the White House and Phillip Toledano released his online installation, America the Giftstop. "We buy souvenirs at the end of a trip, to remind ourselves of the experience. What do we have to remind ourselves of the events of the last eight years?" Toledano said.

An artist and photographer, Toledano's satirical selection of souvenirs from the War on Terror included this life-sized inflatable Guantanamo bay bouncy prison cell.  You can imagine his satisfaction in creating a hard-hitting piece of art that is ostensibly a bouncing castle, but then again, that is probably the point.

Complex Pile, 2007

Statement on art? A screw-you to exhibition organisers? Paul McCarthy's idea of a gag? Or, a case of beauty where you least expect it? The house-sized inflatable dog turd that caught everyone's attention in Hong Kong is testament to the permission new materials give the artist. This work is currently showing as 'Complex Pile', but certain corners of the internet remember when it had a four letter name. This is not a one-off for McCarthy, whose other inflatable works include a disembodied head of George W. Bush and pigs mid-coitus.

Jumping Castle War Memorial, 2010

Aussie artists have also been dragging out the old air-pump. Remember Brook Andrews' Biennale offering a few years ago? Paying tribute to the humble jumping castle, this highly politicised artwork broke the hearts of Sydney’s children by reversing the age restriction to 16+ and popping in a sneaky nod to the old habits of the British Museum — Aboriginal heads — in the turrets. Jumping Castle War Memorial poses some harrowing questions: who would jump on a war memorial? Who can resist a jumping castle? And, where should the memorial end?

Baby Ruth, 1966

Forget your definition of art, or decent human beings; Andy Warhol had a knack for picking trends. So, here is our nod to the father of Pop Art and his inflatable Baby Ruth bars. These bad boys also served as his wedding present to the bride and groom of Mod Wedding, part of his 1966 multimedia event Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

Subway Sea Monster (The Lochness), 2008

Gorilla art and inflatables seem like a natural match, but the logistics must be alluding some of the smaller-scale art makers out there. NYC street artist Joshua Allen Harris has come up with his own solution: building sculptures with everyday plastics, like garbage bags, and then taping them to subway vents. Like Marilyn before them, Harris's pieces blow up as trains pass below them. Cool, huh? In an added bonus Harris also has a conscience and has used the attention payed to his Polar Bear piece to raise support for the fight against global warming.

Rubber Duck, 2007

This international bath time adventurer had its first outing in 2007 and shows no signs of stopping, unless you count this pancake performance in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour. Artist Florentijn Hofman describes his Rubber Duck as an exercise in ice breaking, a destroyer of barriers that knows no discrimination. He could be right: it is extremely accessible, and how much hate mongering could you do with a six-storey, bright yellow duck bobbing behind you?

Hofman's Rubber Duck in happier times.

Published on June 04, 2013 by Ruby Lennon
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