Inflatable barricade training for December 12(D12) . The word “barricade” comes from the French word “barrique” meaning “barrel”. The first barricades were hollow barrels rolled out into 16th century streets, filled with stones and secured with metal chains. Tools for Action, a Berlin-based arts collective, developed a barricade with a similar construction principle. Modular lightweight sculptures made of insulation foil are filled with air and attached together with velcro. A set of cube-shaped units (like cobblestones) can be quickly inflated at different locations, forming a line that hinders sight and movement when brought together en masse. They can be more than walls though – when people throw the individual cobble- stones into the air, they turn a street into a spontaneous playground.
In Paris, the city where the concept of a barricade originated, Tools for Action has invented a new type of inflatable blockade in preparation for protest at the 2015 UN Climate Summit. The inflatable barricades were ´Made in Paris´ and sent to different climate activist groups around the world to be used on December 12.
Actions in the United States and London
The inflatables have been sent in packages to activist groups in New York, Portland and London marked “Fabriqué á Paris.” The inscription refers to the climate conference taking place in the city under a state of emergency. It also refers to the barricade being invented in Paris in the 16th century.
The inflatables have already been used to blockade the offices of the US Forest Service in protest of logging in the Mt. Hood National Forest and a construction site for fracked gas in Westchester, New York. This tactic addresses the fact that climate change is a global problem that needs a site-specific direct response.
“Red Lines are not for crossing”
A red line is drawn across these infatable barricades, symbolizing the demands drawn up by the Coalition 21, a network of 130 civil-society organisations. The red line entails a drastic and immediate reduction of greenhouse emissions and a recognition of the historical responsibility of industrialized countries. It also demands the installation of a monitoring system with the authority to penalize transgressors, and sufficient financing from more economically developed countries for a global transition to clean energy, including compensation for the suffering and loss that climate change has caused.
The barricades were assembled by hundreds of helping hands, connecting French farmers opposing a destructive airport, locals from the Montreuil neighbourhood in Paris and solar panel engineers from California. The construction studio in the social center Jardin d’Alice was a meeting point for discussions, skill sharing, and imagining how this simple tool can be used.
Come build inflatables with us in Paris!
Tools for Action is giving skill-share workshops and trainings how to build your own inflatable sculpture and use it as a tool for protest at the United Nation Climate Conference (COP21).
You can find our studio at the Art Build Space at Jardin d´Alice, 19 rue Garibaldi in Montreuil, 93100.
We’re here pretty much everyday making inflatables, so feel free to come by anytime. We’re always here:
Thursdays to Sundays: 12h – 20h.
Check out our Facebook page for what we’ve been making:
If you can’t make it to Paris, you can also join the crew building inflatables in London for the solidarity demonstrations that will happen there. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info about London inflatables.
See you in Paris!
Tools for Action
On Tuesday morning, a 30-foot carbon bomb blew up in the airspace over the Hudson River in front of West Point Military Academy.
An inflatable bomb pressurized with carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and oxygen contained in outer shell of silver radiant barrier foil, the carbon bomb was manufactured as part of a research program coordinated by the inflatable fabrication group Tools for Action. Lettering on the side of the bomb read, “US Military: Largest consumer of oil, largest emitter of CO2.”
Members of the Sea Change Flotilla in a paper boat on the Hudson river in front of West Point Military Academy. Photo by Ellen Davidson.
The carbon bomb was transported down the river by a flotilla of canoes midway through a two-week journey traversing the Hudson River down to New York for the upcoming climate mobilization. At West Point, the Sea Change Flotilla was joined by former military service members from Veterans For Peace, who plan to carry the carbon bomb in the Stop the Wars, Stop the Warming contingent at the Peoples Climate March on September 21.
“The primary culprit in all this heating the planet is not you or I because we don’t recycle quite enough. It is the US military, the biggest user of fossil fuels and the largest emitter of CO2 on the planet – not to mention its ongoing wars waged for resources and power – wars of destruction to people, life and the environment,” said US Army veteran Tarak Kauff.
Photo by Ellen Davidson
As the United Nations prepares to meet in New York on September 23 to discuss climate change, one subject that will not be on the negotiating table is the emissions of the US military. Although the US military is assumed to be the largest emitter of CO2, the military is not required to report their emissions to the UN. While the Pentagon refuses to release fuel usage data, it has been estimated that the US military is responsible for five percent of total global greenhouse emissions.
“In the dialogue around stopping climate change, too much emphasis is being put on ethical consumerism,” said Katherine Ball of Tools for Action. “Does it really matter if we try to fly less if the US Air Force continues to burn one-fourth of the world’s jet fuel? We have to address the systemic causes of climate change: the most eco-friendly thing you can do is be anti-war.”
Photo by Ellen Davidson
For decades, the US military has been fighting wars to secure oil resources. These wars have taken many forms: from the CIA-planned coup in Iran in 1953 in order to prevent the newly elected prime minister from nationalizing the nation’s oil, to the full-scale invasion of Iraq in 2003 in order to – among other things – up the production of Iraq’s vast oil fields.
In the process of fighting these oil wars, the US Department of Defense has consumed more energy and emitted more carbon than any other institution on Earth. In 2003, as the military prepared for the Iraq invasion, the Army estimated it would consume more gasoline in only three weeks than the Allied Forces used during the entirety of World War II. The Guardian estimates that throughout the entire Iraq War, the US military’s carbon footprint was between 250-600 million tons.
“Military interventions for oil are just the tip of the iceberg. The military is gearing up to fight ‘climate wars’ over resources destabilized by climate change: water, arable land, food. It is a vicious cycle: In fighting these climate wars, the military will release emissions, which will cause more climate change, which further destabilize resources and cause more climate wars, which will cause more emissions…” Artúr van Balen of Tools for Action said.
The US military itself has long warned of the reality of climate wars, “The projected impacts of climate change will be more than threat multipliers; they will serve as catalysts for instability and conflict,” explains the US Military Advisory Board Report National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change.
“We are actively integrating climate considerations across the full spectrum of our activities to ensure a ready and resilient force,” John Conger, the Pentagon’s Deputy under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, said in a statement following the 2014 report. Global weapons manufacturers are also planning for these climate wars, predicting that there will be increased demand for their products as climate change accelerates.
Katherine Ball concluded: “Is military force the US government’s plan for dealing with climate change?”
At 6p.m. on Saturday the 16th of August on the paradise island of Vis in Croatia, the annual open water swimming event was expected to run as usual. Instead a giant inflatable rainbow carried by activists intervened in the closing section of the race to establish queer visibility in public space and sport, and to protest Croatia’s again increasing LGBTQ discrimination -recently coming in bottom (with Latvia) of the EU list of LGBTQ (2) friendly places. The focus on the ethics of sports is due to the fact that sports environments are very hostile to any minority involvement.
For sixteen years the swimming marathon on Vis has taken place over a 2,2 km distance. It is popular among local professionals as well as seasonal recreational swimmers. The biggest group in the past 3 years has been an informal team of LGBTQ swimmers and sport enthusiasts from Croatian clubs in Zagreb and Split. They have gained international attention due to the increasing brutality and homophobia that LGBTQs faced: in attacks on the first Split PRIDE in 2011 and the homophobic and sexist statements of Sport officials in Croatia that received global publicity. Only last week, the Croatian presidential candidate Mrs. Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (National Democrats) said: “many gay people would not want to be regarded as homosexuals.” illustrating a return to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell style policy.
An 8 meter long inflatable rainbow flanked by shimmering silver clouds quickly inflated by an activist flashmob was waiting to meet the scores of swimmers close to the finish line of the 2.2km race. The symbolism referred to both the PRIDE movement and the long-held South Slavic superstition that passing under a rainbow changes an individual’s gender.
Tonka, a young coordinator in the recently opened LGBT center & group Rišpet in Split says:
’The Pop-up Rainbow was a fun and much appreciated experience that proves that activism can be stimulating and motivating and produce successful process based work.’
The major of Vis (National Democrats) insisted via the race organizers the rainbow protest not to take place – to suppress public display of LGBTQ groups (also organizing a big queer party on the night). However as he did not dare to make an official prohibition during the height of the tourist season, the intervention took place without official disturbances and with a colourful reaction from the public.
Artúr van Balen, Tools for Action: `The rainbow intervention was meant as a subtle provocation to challenge presuppositions about LGBTQ-people in the region of Dalmatia and Croatia in general. In a region where tradition and dogmatism sees homosexuality as something abnormal, we envisioned the inflatable pop-up rainbow as an eye catching surprise, a fatamorgana on the water that captures everyone’s´ imagination, regardless of their political views. The inflatable workshop was also meant as a support for queers in Croatia to be more open and confident in coming-out.´
Zeljko Blace, QueerSport : ‘The intervention highlighted the need for the public to be ‘loud and proud’ about sexual orientation and gender identity in public space – especially outside of the nexus of relations between Government, professionalized NGO activism and politricks of media PR. Most LGBTQ advocacy is within the Croatian capital of Zagreb and hugely normalized via the ”marriage equality” focus – highly diverted from the harsh LGBTQ realities on other levels and in rest of Croatia where more grass-root activism is much needed.’
QueerSport community works in social and cultural activism in sport & leisure
Tools for Action creates inflatable intervention in cooperations with other art-, activist or community groups. info(at)toolsforaction.net
Notes to Editors
1. In the lead up to the intervention, two skill sharing workshops in inflatable making as engaged creative work were held in Zagreb and Split, with participants and contributors ranging from young DIY enthusiasts to expert engineers, from creative troublemakers to insightful critics, athletes, artists and activists. Initiators Artúr van Balen from Tools for Action and Zeljko Blace from QueerSport have previously been involved in a number of similar political, social and cultural projects in diverse contexts. Tools for Action’s work includes a 12 meter inflatable hammer that banged the fences of the United Nations climate change conference in Cancún, Mexico 2010, a 7 meter inflatable slipper that slapped patriarchy and supported women rights in India in 2013 and a 11 meter inflatable saw that protested corruption on the anti-Putin protests in 2013. QueerSport does annual QueerSport Weekends in Zagreb and critical sport laboratories in conjunction to EuroGames 2011 in Rotterdam – reflecting on insularity and normalization of a once progressive gay sport movement, Zagreb Pride 2013 – presenting possibilities and alternatives in sport activism in exhibition of “Another Sport is Possible?!.” in Zagreb and Rijeka in Croatia.
2. LGBTQ – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex
August 23, 12-6pm at Mayday Space (free)
Tools for Action is collaborative platform for fabricating unconventional tools and tactics for creative resistance, specializing in (but not limited to) large-scale inflatable constructions. For the NYC climate mobilization, Tools for Action will be hosting a series of hands on workshops, collaborative builds, and participatory interventions. The first workshop will explore how to make inflatables and discuss tactical implementation and narrative symbolism.
Dinner will be provided, lunch will be a potluck, rsvp is not obligatory, but very helpful.
Based in Berlin with a rotating core of collaborators in the UK and US, Tools for Action wants to synergize with groups planning interventions for the NYC climate mobilization. We are DIY and DIT — Do-It-Together!
More info on our facebook site! if you have specific questions, please email us at info(at)toolsforaction.net
Artúr van Balen has produced inflatables for protest as a member of former group Eclectic Electric Collective and, now, Tools for Action. One such inflatable, a cobblestone for a 2012 demonstration in Barcelona, will be featured in ‘Disobedient Objects’. In this post we interview Artur about his own work, the role of inflatables, and their long history as objects of protest.
Read more here: Disobedient Objects Interview
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
The inflatable lungs can be carried in a demonstration. The sculpture will be now sent in a suitcase to travel around the world to highlight the health impacts of air-pollution. The first stops have been Berlin at an international coal conference and in Warsaw protesting the the Clean Coal Conference during the United Nation Climate Conference.
The tour can be followed at www.facebook.com/cough4coal
*1 More information about the relation between air pollution from coal fired power plants and health impacts you can find here: http://www.env-health.org/IMG/pdf/heal_report_the_unpaid_health_bill_-
“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.
First is the community building and bonding stage. As the inflatables are shaped out of a formless piece of plastic, so are the relationships between the group members. New people learn the skills of making so they can pass the knowledge on to the next group. (See this link for a great manual how to make inflatable cobble stones. The manual has been made by our spanish art activist comrades, the Reflectantes. They used the inflatable cobble stones as part of their super hero costume. The reflective surface has the double function to reflect the evil of capitalism and hinder the police men trying to film them by reflecting the light.)
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.
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.