Manipulating Air: student response to Dynamics of Air

12 November 2018

Photo and outfit by Rosanna Li, taken in Malte Wagenfeld’s immersive work with Thomas Auer; ‘Outside In’. Models: Nietta Curry @niettaofficial

By Wan Xinyue

Everyone is an expert at breathing, while few try to control the air we breathe. How do artists manipulate this invisible and intangible element?

A current exhibition curated by RMIT industrial design lecturer Dr. Malte Wagenfeld and Swinburne Dean of Design Jane Burry explores this question and more in Dynamics of Air at RMIT Gallery (until 17 November). The exhibition explores the aesthetics of air and the vital role of air on our living environment. The creative works from 25 artists, designers, and researchers show us the future possibilities for air manipulations, and the effect it will have on humans.

Inhale: immerse yourself in the work by Breathe Earth Collective in Dynamics of Air. Photo by Mark Ashkanasy

Dynamics of Air aims to influence individual experiences with air within some specific space when exploring manipulating air. The framing of limited space makes change of air easier to be controlled and the feeling of the visitors is magnified. Breathe Earth Collective’s Aerosol installation is a four meter of salt breathing tower with native Aussie materials. When visitors sit in front of the tower that is built with native Melaleuca, they can breathe in and feel the delightfully fresh and cool air. If architects start applying Aerosol in cities on a larger scale, this could mean some serious and positive effects on air quality, although Aerosol isn’t magic to solve air pollution immediately on a global scale.

Excluding the Breathe Earth Collective, others artists focus on how to manipulate air with human breathing. German artist Edith Kollath imitates the human breathing process through three specially constructed glass vessels in Liminal passage. These vessels not only purify the air one takes in, but also the air expelled, so it can be passed onto others. The German artist turns abstract atmospheric space into the concrete installation, where breathing is no longer an individual behavior but a social atmospheric exchange. The process of breathing means people are equal when sharing air. To highlight this shift in equality, visitors to are instructed to alter their position when using the artwork.

Edith Kollath (right) with her breathing apparatus at the opening night of Dynamics of Air. Photo by Vicki Jones.

When we imagine manipulating air in the future, we can’t ignore the technology. In this exhibition, some researchers choose to use the state of art technology or approach to control air. For instance, on the stairs of the RMIT Gallery lies a giant installation: the pneumatic system creates an outward air current while curved membranes restrain the shape of air. With computational techniques Inflated restraint expresses a relative balance in the intensive relationship between the natural tendency of air and leading power of design.

We breathe in air every day, but very seldom notice it. With air being such an invisible substance, it’s really no wonder we are unable to appreciate its beauty.  Without ever seeing air, all we really have is our imaginations to rely on, when it comes to understanding how it subtly and gradually shapes our world.  Air seems to be an unsolvable mystery that challenges the way we design our life and living space.

Is it possible to anticipate how we can live with air in the future from design and art-based perspectives?

As one walks through the gallery, it’s almost impossible for to tell if we are the ones manipulating air, or if it’s really manipulating us. It’s because the environment of the gallery is constantly influenced in light and sound, which is carried by air.

In this exhibition, the persistent buzz of machines with the sound of the explosion lets visitors quickened their pace to leave the gallery. It may imply there is a long way for human completely control our feeling about air.

Review by:
万 心玥 WAN Xinyue (Juno)
RMIT University – Bachelor of Communication(Advertising)

Photo credit: The exhibition – described by visitors as ‘beautiful, atmospheric and ethereal’ – was the inspiration for a series of stunning photos by Rosanna Li, an RMIT MA Fashion Design Student, for her end of year portfolio. These images were taken by Rosanna Li in Malte Wagenfeld’s immersive work with Thomas Auer ‘Outside In’. Model: Nietta Curry @niettaofficial, @r0sannali.

Additional images: by Vicki Jones and Mark Ashkanasy.