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suck & blow

gelatin, suck & blow

Gelatin, SUCK & BLOW, spencer brownstone gallery new york, new york

When visitors entered the Spencer Brownstone Gallery, the receptionist, looking somewhat wind-blown, switched on a giant fan. A hallway that led to the gallery’s exhibition space was partitioned off, except for a hole lined with black plastic garbage bags, which started to heave from the wind generated by the fan.

For the uninitiated, going into the installation titled “Suck and Blow,” by the Austrian art ensemble Gelatin, was daunting. It looked as if you would get hopelessly tangled in plastic. By bowing down and pushing through, however, the plastic floated aside.

The tunnel opened into the gallery room which Gelatin had fitted with a plastic sleeve. The fan was sucking air out of the room, and the giant bag swelled to fill the space. After passing through a hallway of undulating plastic along with a whoosh of air, viewers found the ceiling of plastic slowly rising to fill the displaced atmosphere around it.

Once the giant plastic bag swelled to capacity, the hallway stretched taut. Then the fan cut off, and viewers lay on a futon mattress propped against the wall, watching the plastic slip back to the floor like oozing lava. Light came only from the entrance and a bare florescent bulb attached to an extension cord that snaked across the floor.

Gelatin is an ensemble of four Austrian artists—Ali Janka, Florian Reither, Tobias Urban and Wolfgang Gartner—who apparently enjoy some notoriety in their homeland due to the interactive installations they make. “Suck and Blow” is in line with the installations they assembled last August in the courtyard of PS 1, the contemporary art center in Long Island City, Queens. Gelatin turned the courtyard into a playground. There, a sub-culture of young club goers, rarely seen by day, assembled Saturday afternoons to listen to cutting-edge DJs and to mingle in and around Gelatin’s creations. One of the group’s installations was a two-tiered ring of humming refrigerators, which blasted cool air into its central enclosure for a way to beat the summer heat. Another installation was a tower of used office furniture. People could climb on it, but first had to sign a release. Similarly, the Spencer Brownstone Gallery asked those who would enter “Suck and Blow” to sign a statement freeing the gallery from responsibility for sufferers of claustrophobia (without the fan starting again the plastic would settle on top of its spectators.)

Not so much inspired art as a fun idea taken to its limit, “Suck and Blow” showed how Gelatin uses modern gadgetry for unintended purposes. Luddites often lament that the world of technology is a Moloch, or man-eating dynamo. With this installation, science is turned on its head and given over to the muses of these playful artists. Viewers might have felt like parasites venturing into the queasy bowels of the city itself. The crank of the fan and tears and patches of its plastic insides resemble how a technological behemoth such as a city might suffer indigestion from heavy human use.

New York, New York

1998


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