Giant inflatable rainbow intervenes in Croatia´s annual swim race (Vis 2014)

Foto by Csilla Hódi
Foto by Csilla Hódi


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.

Foto by Csilla Hódi
Foto by Csilla Hódi

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.

Foto by Csilla Hódi
Foto by Csilla Hódi

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.

Foto by Csilla Hódi
Foto by Csilla Hódi

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.´

Foto by Csilla Hódi
Foto by Csilla Hódi

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.’

Contact Details

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)

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

Inflatable Workshop for the Peoples Climate March in New York

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)



Interview for Disobedient Objects - Exhibition Victoria & Alberts Museum -

Italian based architect-group UFO makes an inflatable intervention during an anti-Vietnam protest in Firenze. Date to be verified.
Italian based architect-group UFO makes an inflatable intervention during an anti-Vietnam protest in Firenze. 

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


Tutorial Carbon Bubble

Carbon Bubble / Inflatable Tutorial from toolsforaction

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 [email protected] 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



Team Rainbow (Croatia 2014)


This 4 day workshop happened between 29th of march and the 1th of april in Zagreb after an invitation of Željko Blace from the organisation QueerSport. QueerSport is a loose international sports and culture community, that voices critique on normativity in sport institutions, events and practices, that go beyond sexuality and gender discrimination.

During the workshop a spontaneous group of people from Zagreb created a 8 meter long and 4.5 m high inflatable rainbow. The inflatable will be used for interventions on normative sport events.  The rainbow is not only a symbol of gay or LGBT-culture (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), but also refers to an Eastern European superstition that when you walk under a rainbow you will experience a sex-change. The myth is still present in the popular imagination today: a participant of the workshop recalled to have read this story as part of the school education when she was six years old!

Below some images and a short video about the last day of the workshop. The workshop was made possible with the kind support of the ULUPUH program on engaged creativity.

Watch this blog for inflatable interventions to come with the Pop Up Rainbow!


The preparation of a prototype by Željko and Sara.

prototypeA pathetique first prototype. A little limp, but you get the idea.

zeljko-webZeljko Blace busy in making the rainbow.


The Lungs (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

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

*1 More information about the relation between air pollution from coal fired power plants and health impacts you can find here:

Inflatable Cobblestones on spanish TV (2013)



“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.

Inflatable cobblestone, action of Eclectic Electric Collective in cooperation with Enmedio collective during the General Strike in Barcelona 2012. © Oriana Eliçabe/

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.

Inflatable workshop of the Eclectic Electric Collective at the artivist festival “Como Acabar con el Mal” (How to end Evil) organised by Enmedio. Photo by Kim Smith.

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.

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.

«Sawing» Bolotnaya (Moscow 2013)

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.

Transport of inflatable saw to Bolotnaya Square, 06.05.2013, Moscow

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 …

pic 5

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.


See also video:

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.

The Short-Lifespan of the Inflatable BT Brinjal (Delhi 2013)

Inflatable BT brinjal shortly before it’s destruction in Delhi on 18.03.2013.

*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.

Three punjabi farmers use the remains of the inflatable BT brinjal as a sleeping mat.

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.

The Eurocentric Media-Trap
One of the mainstream newspapers, The Hindu carried a good article (see picture) with an image of the inflatable BT brinjal. Unfortunately the photo - not representative of the event-  was taken in the minutes just as the brinjal had been inflated and was initially being carried into the crowd. Of the 40.000 people present, only two were western. We were careful to stay away from the BT brinjal  as we knew the press love the western-centric images and it diverts attention away from the indian grass roots movements (Westerners are commonly associated with big funding, NGOs and diminished autonomy for movements).

The Pink Slapping Chappal - (Mangalore 2013)

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.

The Pink Slapping Chappal // Mangalore, India January 2013 from Artur on Vimeo.

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

Preparatory Workshop in Mangalore on 7.01.2013

Mangalore Skillshare from Artur on Vimeo.