At first glance, the cavernous warehouse which houses Hot Air resembles the capsized toybox of some gargantuan toddler: a multicoloured mess of bright, shiny things strewn across the floor, as if in a tantrum. This initial impression is dispelled however, at least in part, upon closer inspection of the individual works on show: curved shapes here and there, their surfaces – affixed with various appendages and obtrusions – appearing more akin to as-yet invented sex toys. Others are distinctly anatomical – two enormous eyeballs dangle from their nerves, peering Eckleburg-like at the show’s attendees, whilst on the wall a deflated pink whoopie-cushion is pinned to resemble the female reproductive system. My favourite piece is the tangled yellow balloon, a mobius strip I can’t wrap my mind around; my friend favours the giant spaghetti and meatballs twirled around a fork suspended in mid-air.
These pieces, created by over 30 artists and on show over the course of one weekend in London, have been brought together by Bad Art, the project founded in 2016 under a curatorial ethos of challenging “the contemporary art world through transgressive exhibitions,” reacting and protesting “against the hushed silence, white-walled gallery experience.” Their most recent endeavour certainly achieves this latter aim: the strangeness of these technicolour creatures, structures, and shapes is heightened dramatically by the space in which they’re shown. Within this bleak warehouse off Walworth Road, amidst exposed piping and moss-cushioned walls, it feels as though these pieces are being stored away in lieu of a party or fair, coming alive where no one was supposed to see them. This nightmarish inkling of their sentience is somewhat allayed by the whirring of the various fans keeping them inflated with the show’s titular hot air. On this sweltering day, the visceral childhood memories of sweat-dampened skin on funfair plastic makes viewing the show an evocative, if uncomfortable experience.
Indeed, despite the nods to latex fetish-gear and blow-up dolls – made all the more explicit by the bare breasts of its various figurative sculptures –it’s a fairground that this show most closely resembles; balloons and inflatable prizes, imposing slides and bouncy castles ready to be packed away and taken to new towns and new children. The material used for all these works is, for me, intrinsically associated with the outdoors: thick plastic, made to withstand rain, mud, and wind. Ironically, the only actual bouncy castle on show is encased in glass like a precious artefact, protected even from the still air of the warehouse. Aside from this piece however, the works on show have a definite air of durability, lacking the sacred delicacy one attributes to gilt-framed paintings. The fact that in the short time it takes me to do a few laps around the space, I see the same works in various states of collapse serves to further remind me of how easily one could dismantle, store, and transport them, folding them away in bags and boxes, no need for expensive couriers and climate-controlled archives.
This resilience is, however, a fallacy of sorts when one considers the delicacy of these sculptures in structural rather than material terms. At Hot Air, I encounter the same intrusive thought which enters my mind in any gallery or museum space: how easy would it be to damage these works, and how best can I avoid it? Putting aside my vision of some bandit running amok with a drawing pin, destroying the entire show in a series of bangs, I think of how many times a loose earring has flown across a room with a hasty turn of the head and walk, stiff-necked, toward the exit, fearing my own proclivity for disaster. And yet, I realise – the ironies layering up thick and fast the more I dwell on the show – the pieces themselves will last forever, even if in a state of punctured ruin, thanks to the plastic they are comprised of, which will never decompose, but loiter on the earth’s surface indefinitely, pristine amongst the rubble or grandeur of whatever future awaits us.
Here then is the crux of what makes Hot Air interesting, if not particularly affecting. Though the individual works on display are of mixed quality, when viewed together they propose a complex network of interconnected juxtapositions; childhood and adulthood, brightness and bleakness, resistance and fallibility, the temporary and foreverness. Not bad for a show consisting, in the most part, of air and empty space.