The inflatable carbon bubble is a great tool to transform a protest into a highly playful, fun and interactive event and at the same time raise awareness about the carbon bubble issue.*1 The making of the inflatable can be an inspiring group activity. It can be also used for symbolic or direct action: for example the popping of the inflatable carbon
bubble can be very powerful to tell and visualise the future market crash of the fossil fuel industry.
Please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions. And please send us pictures of your inflatable action!
Let´s pop this carbon bubble!
Tools for Action
*1 The “carbon bubble” is first coined by the Carbon Tracker Initiative in their “Unburnable Carbon” Report (2011). A definition of the idea is, that “fossil fuel companies are overvalued because if and when the world ever gets serious about dealing with the climate crisis, the fossil fuel companies won’t be able to burn their carbon reserves, from which they derive their value.” Kessler, Huffington Post 29.10.2013
Video concept by Artúr van Balen (Art Director), Video production Jakob Huber (Edit), filmteams LeftVision and Regenfrei. Thanks for everyone participating.The video would not have been possible with the big help of numerous individuals.
The inflatable lung breathes every 5.5 seconds in and every 5.5 seconds out. The inflatable sculpture is part of the #Cough4Coal-Campaign, a self-initiated campaign about the health impacts of the coal industry.
The burning of coal by coal fired power plants not only release CO2 emissions, but also various toxic metals, acid gas and fine particulate matter. Scientific studies say, that the fine particulate matters from coal fired power plants are particularly hazardous. The fine matter from a diameter not bigger as 2.5 micrometer penetrate our lung tissue, enter our blood stream, causing asthma, high blood pressure, a higher risk of cancer and other related health problems.*1
“Protecting protesters from police and causing no damage: an enormous inflatable cube that reflects light! The objective: to impede charging riot police, and prevent them from recording images. The Reflecto-Cube has been already used throughout Europe! You can find DIY tutorials for making them online..“
These are the opening words from the female reporter from the Spanish TV channel La Sexta in May 2013. The broadcast highlighted the wave of popularity of making of inflatable cubes for demonstrations against the austerity cuts in Spain. In the background behind the reporter plays footage of our intervention with inflatable cobblestones in Berlin at the First of May Demonstration. The camera pans over a crowd tossing the inflatables in the air like balloons in a festival, until a giant 3x3x3 meter inflatable cube appears. Why did Spanish television represent a Berlin demonstration on their broadcast about Spain’s austerity protests?
The news report continues, dubbing the enormous inflatable cobblestone a “barricade of the 21st century”. A squad of 20 highly armed riot cops walk backwards intimidated by the sculpture. One policeman tries to tear the inflatable apart, struggling with the shiny slippery surface. Cheers and applause burst from the crowd as the police become increasingly embarrassed by their clumsy attempt to destroy the inflatable.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the recent media infatuation with inflatables is not just their popularity, but also their effectiveness. Inflatables serve multiple functions in a protest that can be summarized by the term “tactical frivolity.”
First: inflatables uplift a grim protest situation into a playful event. There is something magic about what inflatables induce in people. Their enormous size combined with the weightlessness and softness makes them irresistibly attractive and dreamlike. People have a natural tendency to touch the inflatable sculpture and to join the game of throwing inflatables in the air—changing a march into a poetic, joyful and participatory event. In situations where people are kettled in, they serve as excellent playing devices not to let the atmosphere become boring or demoralising.
Second: in times of conflict inflatables can deescalate tension or protect ones own body. In both Berlin and Barcelona, when protesters and police were at their breaking point, the situation transformed when a silver inflatable cube bounced in. A protester throws it on to the police line, the police bounce it back, protesters push the inflatable back again. To everyone’s astonishment a ball game happened between protesters and the police. I have heard stories that in Barcelona two police men arrested an inflatable, squeezing the bulky shape into a police van. Not only do these kinds of situations break the binary confrontation between protester and police, they also ridicule authority.
Third: inflatables provide strong visual imagery that can capture the media spectacle. Protests are often misrepresented or not represented by (mainstream) media. Journalists need a hook, something exciting, unusual or creative that they can spin their story around. An intervention with inflatables can provide this spectacular hook, especially when the joyful inflatable gets destroyed by agitated police or other opponents.
In the First of May Demonstration in Berlin the destruction of the inflatables was carefully planned to subvert the typical representation of the protest. Mainstream press reports of the annual demonstration tend to describe its participants as “stone throwing trouble makers”, using predictable images of broken shop windows, bonfires on the street and stone throwing kids (that could secretly be agent provocateurs). This media representation tactic has been used time and time again, from the Arab Spring to Gezi Park in Istanbul to Barcelona, to sway public sentiment towards the ultimate goal of justifying police brutality and restrictions on protests. We wanted to exaggerate this image of “stone throwing trouble makers” by throwing oversized inflatable stones. Not only did we manifest a media spectacle, we also orchestrated our own countermedia strategy. Equipped with three secret camera teams, each team focused on a specific scene they tried to capture in the seemingly spontaneous course of events.
Other examples of inflatable induced media spectacles is the twelve meter inflatable hammer at the United Nation climate conference in Cancún, Mexico 2010. Protesters stormed the fence of the conference complex and threw the hammer at it, where the Mexican police, in full view of the press. tore the inflatable to pieces. Within an hour the media corporations choose the hammer as a symbol of the climate changes protests and its image traveled across the world.
The realization of an inflatable intervention follows three stages.
The second stage is the intervention in public space at the action or demonstration. A dramatic narrative is carefully orchestrated at a point of intervention. Cameras are put into place and possible scenes for recording are discussed.
The third stage is the viral spreading of the event through mainstream and alternative media. The inflatable works as a storytelling device. Their dramatic destruction is a tactical spectacle to draw attention to the causes of the social unrest. Despite their destruction, the images of inflatables reappear like ghosts to haunt authorities and inspire disobedience, as the inflatable hammer of Mexico appeared in a remote Indian newspaper and films of the inflatable cobblestones appeared on Spanish TV.
Many thanks for art-activist group Enmedio and the Reflectantes for providing us with information about the news report and keeping up the good work.
This article appears first in Truth is Concrete, A handbook for artistic strategies in real politics, Steirischen Herbst.
The adventures of a giant inflatable saw during the opposition rally in Moscow
by Veronika Komarova
On may 6th 2013 almost 20 000 muscovites gathered on Bolotnaya square near Kremlin to mark the 1 year anniversary of the “March of Millions” – an anti-Putin demonstration, which in previous may turned into a bloody clash between the protesters and the police. During this major opposition rally, the third of its kind in 2013, a giant inflatable “saw” («Pila» in russian) was seen surfing through the crowd. This 10 metre long symbolic sculpture (the “saw” is an easy-recognizable symbol of corruption and budget-stealing in Russia) was made specially for the event by Artur Van Balen/Tools for Action in collaboration with the artivist group Partizaning and other local activists, artists and journalists to show support for the protest movement in Russia.
Anniversary of a bloody protest
The Russian opposition movement today is noticeably losing its former power and popularity among the citizens compared with last year. Started during the autumn of 2011 as a response to the rigged parliamentary elections (as of which the opposition leaders started to call current ruling party “United Russia”- “the party of crooks and thieves”), it soon began to spread all around Russia and received active support from foreign countries as well – with the slogan “Fair votes for Russia” mass demonstrations were regularly held in more than 20 countries. After the massively falsified presidential votes in March 2012 – when then prime minister Vladimir Putin received 63.64% and became the president for the 3rd time – a sudden wave of protests reached a new high. However, only 2 months later, on may 6th (the eve of Putin’s new-term inauguration) the opposition organized a new demonstration called “March of Millions” which unintentionally turned into a huge violent fight between the protesters and the police. People were walking down the Yakimanka streets to Bolotnaya square with posters saying “We will not let the thief into the Kremlin” when the police suddenly blocked their way, announced that the rally had been cancelled, and began force them to disperse with batons. What resulted were dozens of injuries and hundreds of arrests.
“The battle of Bolotnaya” became a turning point in the short history of the 2011-2012 protests – people suddenly became aware of how dangerous even the most “peaceful” rally can be in this country, and, as a result, some part of them decided to step away from the movement. One year on, civil activists still live in daily fear of being caught and tried in the “Bolotnaya square case” (there are already 30 people accused of organizing the 6th of may’s mass disorders, most of whom are under arrest and awaiting trial) and a lot of former protesters, who used to take part in almost every rally last year, now choose to stay at home instead of taking risks on the streets.
The new symbol of Bolotnaya
However, a year after the “Bolotnaya tragedy”, the opposition decided to gather again on the same spot on 6th of may 2013 – with a new claim to “Free Bolotnaya prisoners”. As everyone else, we had doubts about attending the demo – no one could guarantee the safety of the event, especially with last year’s tragedies at the forefront of our minds. In a situation where anyone could be arrested without cause, it was extremely dangerous to be there, especially with a giant saw-shaped object «the Pila» (“sawing the budget” in russian is a settled expression which means “corruption” and “budget-stealing by the officials”), which we had made specially for this event and were supposed to bring with us.
On the day of the demonstration, the inflatable was taken-out to Bolotnaya square by his associates who were activists of the local movement “Partizaning”. The problem appeared right away at the entrance to the meeting – as in Russia protesters need to go through a metal detector before entering an authorized rally. A policeman began shaking his head as soon as he noticed our cart with a huge silver object, and it seemed like our plan would fail at the first hurdle. Our explanations that it would be a “huge inflatable silver ball” didn’t work. The guard said that the art-action should have been confirmed earlier, directly with the organisers.
Luckily, we could quickly catch one of the organisers, who helped us to settle the problem with getting the saw through the entrance. Thus, the police agreed to let our cart through with the proviso that the sculpture would be inflated under their close watch. The process of inflating the saw attracted a mass audience. Demonstrators couldn’t understand what would come of it – was it a silver caterpillar, or a phallic symbol …
When the inflatable was ready, poet Alexander Delphinov, who was also attending the event, grabbed it and went straight into the crowd shouting out an improvised verse about the saw, the corruption and the “crooks and thieves” who “cut and steal” the budget.
The saw was joyfully greeted by the crowd with people helping activists to carry it. Someone even organized an improvised performance with words: “It’s time to saw some budget”:
The sculpture had made two crowd-surfing “trips” from the entrance gates to the stage and back, and then stopped under the monument of the well-known russian painter Ilya Repin. People kept coming there until the very end of the day – they were taking pictures, touching the saw from different sides and discussing its meaning. I would imagine that, for some of them, our huge inflatable «Pila» became a symbol of Bolotnaya-2013.
The inflatable art-action with inflatables showed russians a new way of protesting, one which was more creative, self-organized, and safe. Perhaps this was also a method which was a little more fun to express their thoughts and demands during the mass demonstrations. Fortunately, solidarity with the “May 6 prisoners” rally has gathered more than 20 000 people and ended peacefully.
Veronika Komarova is a journalist writing for Public Post, an online russian news blog.
*Brinjal is the word for “Aubergine” or “Eggplant” in India. BT brinjal is the first GM food-crop that the biotech industry has been aggressively marketing in India. Lucy tells the story of what happened with the inflatable Brinjal, that was brought into a protest against the Indian Governments new Land Bill.
The farmers refused the leave Delhi when the one day of protest was over- they stayed for 3 days sitting, cooking, sleeping in the streets of the capital. The arrival of the 6 meter inflatable BT brinjal*1, made by a group of artists and activists in South India, was welcomed with cheering. It was tossed back and forth over the crowd, spinning slowly and then bouncing back.
Suddenly a farmer leader on stage was shouting “we must resist the Land Bill just as we must resist the GM industry – and not believe their propaganda. BT Brinjal Nasho! Nasho*!” (Nasho means “destroy” in Hindi. )
Suddenly, and savagely, the brinjal was beaten with sticks and kicked, and publicly destroyed. When it was found on the ground, a group of old men were still hitting the deflated and flaccid ex-brinjal.
After the destruction, it was found being torn to shreds by three punjabi farmers. Seemingly they were still venting their rage at BT brinjal. Then it turned out they wanted to use the remains as a tarpaulin – indeed, the protest stretched to 3 days, and farmers were all sleeping in the streets. So the inflatable lived on as a sleeping mat for the farmers.
Background of the Protest:
From 18.03.2013 TILL 21.03.2013 there was a massive mobilisation of 40.000 farmers from all across India in Delhi. It was a huge protest against the Government’s new Land Bill which will allow more agricultural land to be diverted for non-agricultural purposes. The government is acting as an agent for industry, removing farmers from their their land. In India 70% of the population practice small-scale farming. This grabbing of farmers’ land is in keeping with the current paradigm of development which sees the villages emptying and agriculture being corporatised, whilst both the urban population and consumption swell.
After the Delhi gangrape in December 2012, a revival of the feminist movement began in India. This 7 meter inflatable slipper supported the “Walk for Women”, a Women rights demonstration in Mangalore, South-India. The video documents the collaboration between Artur van Balen and Tilly Ferguson // Tools for Action and the political theatre group Tharikita Kala Kammata, Breakthrough, Shakari Snehittara Niranthara, based in Mangalore and the village Bramakutlu. The building process took place in the village Bramakutlu, 25 km east of Mangalore.
Many thanks to Vani Periodi, Vidya Dinker, Uday Kumar, Sunila, Malika, Pavitra, Ini, Kishur, Agyi, Aydin, the groups Tharikita Kala Kammata, Breakthrough, Shakari Snehittara Niranthara and many others in Bramakutlu village and beyond.
Object: 7 x 3 x 1,5 m
Material: flex foil, double sided tape, thread, discarded car tubes, bike pump
Video: 6:10 ; edit Artúr van Balen
Sous les pavés, la plage.(Under the pavement, the beach.)
Streetgraffiti from the french ’68 movement
On the 25th revolutionary 1st of May demonstration in Berlin-Kreuzberg, protesters were throwing huge inflatable cobblestones, made of silver-reflective foil and tape.The creative intervention was initiated by the artivist collective “eclectic electric collective” (e.e.c.) and was meant as a celebration of an object which is both a symbol and a material weapon of anti-authoritarian struggle everywhere. It also aimed to bring new strategies of tactical frivolity into the demonstration.
A member of the collective explains:
Through 25 years of riots, the cobblestone has become an icon for protests at the May 1 in Berlin Kreuzberg. The use of cobblestones in social uprisings is however much older: from ancient Rome, to the Paris Commune in 1871 to the ´68 movement, cobblestones have been used for barricades and as a weapon of defense. Taking stones out of the pavement is a favoured act of those who refuse to consent to an oppressive social order.
The May 1st demonstration in Berlin has long been a testing-ground for police tactics of crowd control and restrictions on protest. This year, 7000 highly-armed and aggressively shielded cops matched some 15 000 protesters, who were warned that a new water cannon, with a 10 000 L water-capacity, would be ready to be used against them.
The inflatables are a collective creative intervention against this growing repression of protest and dissent, in ways that are both concrete and as well as symbolic. The experiences of the inflatables on May 1 proved their many uses in situations of protest, which can be summarized by the term “tactical frivolity”. Inflatables bring celebration and play to a demonstration while at the same time having strategic functions in situations of conflict…