The Art Is Full of Hot Air at BLOW UP

The Factory’s collaboratory exhibition with Mount Analogue showcases inflatable art.

Colleen Louise Barry is obsessed with the phrase blow up.

“I like the fact that the word means so many different things,” she says. “If something’s blowing up, it’s getting big. If something blows up, it dies. If something’s being inflated, it’s coming to life. There are all of these dichotomies present in the phrase.”

Barry is the founder of Mount Analogue, a small independent press in Seattle that considers publishing a “literary genre of its own.” In addition to print, Mount Analogue is also dedicated to video and audio production, along with other collaborative projects. Their latest endeavor sits in this last category—an inflatable-art show called BLOW UP.

Goofy as it sounds, inflatable art isn’t unprecedented, dating at least as far back as Andy Warhol’s inflatable pillow-sized Baby Ruth bars of 1966. Since then the catalog of bright, bulging art pieces has grown, and so have the controversies that surround them. When Paul McCarthy’s 79-foot-high inflatable butt plug (cheekily titled Tree) was installed at the 2014 International Contemporary Art Fair in Paris, the artist was greeted by a literal slap in the face from an angry crowd member. Several Parisians later took it upon themselves to deflate the sculpture by detaching its air source and snipping its support cables. Barry is aware of this history, but says it didn’t play a very big role in her thinking about BLOW UP, which she claims was likely more inspired by “the man who is dancing outside the car sales lot.”

The installation is part of Mount Analogue’s Art Series, which began in the summer of 2016. Barry says the series is supposed to be “playful.” In a time of political turmoil and upsetting world news, Barry sees the idea of playfulness and joy as “a really complex form of resistance.” “There are so many things to feel upset or sad or depressed about,” she says, “and I think that is part of the master evil plan. The more playful and joyful we can be together, the more we can say ‘Fuck you’ to all that fear and sadness.”

Inflatables are childish and silly. Barry even calls them “kind of trashy” and “absurd,” but insists this is all part of the fun. Guests will enter the show through an inflatable tunnel composed by the Seattle Design Nerds, a local volunteer organization that constructs public pop-up installations. More inflatable objects await inside, many designed and constructed by local artist Amanda James Parker.

Then Barry throws a curveball—better yet, a beach ball—into the show. As it turns out, the installation isn’t entirely as lighthearted as it sounds. This is where some of those dichotomies come in. In addition to all the literal inflatables, BLOW UP also includes a projection by Guy Merrill and music, which will play throughout the entire exhibit, by Peter Dodds. Merrill created a video of clouds dispersing and coming together, which Barry said relates to the expanding and contracting of inflatables, or as she says, “the cycle of life.” With Dodd’s audio, the exhibit takes a darker turn. Relating the phrase “blow up” to nuclear warfare, he sets the national anthems of every nuclear nation as a background to the subterranean impulses recorded by the University of Washington during North Korean nuclear testing. This obviously complicates Barry’s “joyful” mood, but maybe it makes playful resistance all the more important.

The atmosphere will certainly be complex, but Barry insists that in the end “it’s about joy, it’s about being playful and resisting sadness. I think people should just put their party pants on and come with their friends.” Or better yet, put on some inflatable pants. The Factory, 1216 10th Ave., Free. All ages. 6–11 p.m. Thurs., July 13.