Floating Utopias - exhibition and symposium

Ahmet Ögüt, Castle of Vooruit, Berlin 2018


We are proud to present the exhibition Floating Utopias (26.04.20187 - 24.06.2018) and accompanying symposium Floating ideologies - Material Disobedience (19.05.2018).

With: Ahmet Öğüt, Ant Farm, Anna Hoetjes, Anika Schwarzlose, Artúr van Balen, Eventstructure Research Group, Franco Mazzucchelli, Graham Stevens, Huw Wahl, Marco Barotti and Plastique Fantastique, The Yes Men, Tomás Saraceno, Tools for Action, UFO
Ever since the first hot-air balloon ascended in 1783, inflatable objects have inspired the imagination of alternative worlds. In the nineteenth century, aerial towns colonized the skies and floating labs surveyed the world. Flying cameras popularized the view from above. Starting in the 1930s, gigantic floats attracted attention to socialist and capitalist mass parades. Along with the ideals of the generation of 1968, inflatable spaces and performances entered into architecture and tested new forms of coexistence.

‘Floating Utopias’ presents the broad range of pneumatic media in an exhibition and accompanying interventions in urban space. The project juxtaposes historical and contemporary works and raises questions as to their potential for artistic and activist practices. Until today, inflatable objects serve as tools for aesthetic and political interventions: artists and activists situate their works between surreality and functionality, fiction and fact. Inflatables invite us to be playful and disobedient, they forge communities and prompt participation, generate attention and agency.

The exhibition is realised within the democratic arts society neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (nGbK) Berlin.

Adress:nGbK, Oranienstraße 25, 10999 Berlin
Open: Daily 12-19h, Wed-Fri 12-20h
Language(s):German, English
Entry: free
Organized by:neue Gesellschaft für bildende Kunst
Project group:

Artúr van Balen, Fabiola Bierhoff, Alexander Dunst, Anna Hoetjes, Jantien Roozenburg, Hannah Zindel

Exhibition design: Agustina Pascotto and Jazmin Lourdes Schenone in collaboration with Jantien Roozenburg

Paris, 2015 ´Red Lines are not for crossing`protest at international climate conference. Photograph


Symposium: Floating Ideologies – Material Disobedience


Much to the frustration of centuries of inventors, hot-air balloons can only be steered vertically, not horizontally. The uncontrollable, disobedient element of balloons points to both a burden and a promise of liberation. Inflatables are used as tools of observation and disguise in the military, as tools of attraction in mass spectacles and as tools for direct action in protest situations. This symposium investigates how inflatables have the potential for tactics and strategies ranging from centralised technologies of control to insurrectionary bottom-up approaches for empowerment. Where can inflatables take us? And what are the ethical dilemmas, considering that tools can be used by actors with different political agendas?

Artúr van Balen: Guided tour of the Floating Utopias exhibition
(artist, activist, co-curator exhibition Floating Utopias)
15:00 - 15:45

Guided tour through the exhibition and introduction to the themes of the symposium Floating Ideologies - Material disobedience.

Tom Ullrich: Flying barricades
(mediatheorist and historian)
16:00 - 16:45

Barricades and balloons are two centuries-old French inventions that do not initially seem to be connected. However, their stories both touch on extreme situations of armed conflict as well as political and artistic protest. The article illustrates this peculiar exchange of airy blockades and resistant balloons with literary, visual and cinematic documents - from the uprising of the Paris Commune in 1871 and Albert Robidas utopia of a pneumatic twentieth century to the time of the protests around 1968.

Anika Schwarzlose: Disguise and Deception
16:45 - 17:30

Inflatables and their use by the military for bluff and deception, as a means of propaganda, make believe, disguise and distraction.

Inflatable decoy weapons and infrastructure as attempts to simulate resources, manpower and mobility, date back to before World War II. An American unit known as the “Ghost Army” gained international fame. But also in Germany, the army has employed very similar methods. The unit “Tarnen und Täuschen” creates inflatable tanks, bridges and replica weapons - starting out in Eastern Germany during the cold war, and still active today. An artist talk and interviews with army technicians give an insight into the history of military inflatable use and construction.

Moritz Frischkorn: Choreography of things, from 1968 to today
(choreographer, theorist)
18:00 - 18:45

In 1968 American choreographer Merce Cunningham presented his piece ‘RainForest’, a movement study about the apparent wilderness of his homeland in the Northwest USA. The ‘Silver Clouds’ by Andy Warhol - helium-filled, silver balloons floating on the stage and into the auditorium - were the central actor and the only stage setting of this choreography. With reference to Cunningham’s work, the aesthetic writings of Yvonne Rainer and current works by Mette Ingvartsen, the role objects play in contemporary choreography is addressed, whether on the stage or the street. At the same time, I examine the question of what constitutes the resistant choreopolitical potential of things, and how this can be developed and preserved?

Shailoh Phillips: Floating Ideologies: Ethical Dilemmas for the Politics of Direct Action
(Artistic researcher, PhD/ philosopher / activist)
18:45 - 19:30

Inflatables are floating and light-weight tactical tools, ideal for sending political messages, disrupting protests and blocking streets. However, the political orientation of such tools are not fixed; indeed, they are filled with nothing but air. Tools of liberation can easily be appropriated for nationalist alt-right agendas, flipping to become tools of oppression. This performance lecture will look into the underlying critical dilemmas of the ethics of inflatables in direct action.

Huw Wahl on Action Space (1968-1978)
Film screening and discussion :
20:00 - 22:00

Founded by my father Ken Turner and his wife Mary Turner in 1968, Action Space used large inflatable sculptures to create interventions in public spaces. By bringing together artists, performers, dancers, painters and musicians, the movement sought to produce cultural democratic spaces for art, education and creative play outside of the restrictive space of the gallery system. This film looks at those years between 1968 and 1978, exploring contemporary and pertinent issues around public/private space, individual/collective creativity, community and responsibility, emancipation and play. It features archive footage alongside discussions with key members of the movement, present-day writers and theorists. The film is based around the making of a new inflatable sculpture within which contemporary performances and happenings are staged.