In 1998, when the Urban Center in New York hosted a show called The Inflatable Moment: Pneumatics and Protest in '68, then-New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp spent the last paragraph of his review drifting off: "The best time I had in the last 10 years was spent floating on a Batman raft in the blue water off Capri...."
There's something utopic about inflatables that goes all the way back to the 18th-century invention of the hot-air balloon. In the 1960s, French antiestablishment architects and designers used inflatables as a form of protest. That same decade, American Pop artists proposed giant inflatable anti-monuments to regular household objects, and blow-up toys have never been out of art since.
This month inside Gallery 4Culture, young Seattle artist Shawn Patrick Landis has built a semisoft backyard riddled with inflatables. The parts of the backyard itself are real: a real wood fence built along a gallery wall, a real motorcycle parked behind the fence, a real fire pit, pile of wood, ax in a stump, ladder, folding chair, and charcoal grill. A readymade stage set for a Northwestern home-improving bachelor.
Except that each of those real objects has an inflated box of clear vinyl stuck to its side like a growth. Each box is connected to a thicket of big, wormy pneumatic tubes that gum up the scene, leaving you to walk carefully through it. Which gives you time to look and to think.
Are these boxes surrealistic thought bubbles, suggesting that each of these strong-and-silent-type objects has something to say for itself? Are they joke vitrines, riffing on the fact that anything can be art as long as you put a glass case on it? Are they metaphysical abstractions, carvings of air that imply uncertain potential, make space for the unseen?
Yes, no, I don't know. I only know that they're pleasure cubes that keep my mind moving. And my eye. Due to internal air pressure, one wall of each inflated box is pressed onto the surface of the object it's attached to, outlining the object perfectly, as if it were being cast. In each clear box, this counterintuitively collapsed wall is made of nylon fabric the texture of a tent and the color of blue tarp.