We Make Money Not Art

Interview Airspace Activism-june 2010


Interaction designer Nelly Ben Hayoun (whose works, Super K Sonic Booooum and The Soyuz Chair, you might remember) and geography researcher Dr Alison J Williams teamed up for Airspace Activism, a project that investigates the geographies of UK military airspaces which are used by air forces to train and prepare for combat situations.

One of the outcomes of Nelly and Alison's collaboration is the Theatre of the Air. A video using interviews with military pilots and navigators to understand how they perceive the geometries of the spaces through which they fly.

These airspaces exist in 3D volumes of space that can be activated and deactivated at different times. However, aviators only have two-dimensional air charts to 'see' these spaces, so they have to translate these mappings into three dimensions in their minds in order to be able to safely fly through them.

In order to make these invisible airspaces visible, Nelly and Dr. Williams worked on another project which will be the focus of this post. It's a 4 meters high windfarm that civilians could use to create radar white noise and prevent aircraft flying overhead, therefore reclaiming their piece of sky. An "audio-locator" --which a size is far more manageable that the acoustic locators used during the war before the invention of radar-- warns the user of any incoming aircraft and so that he or she has time to set the wind farm in motion.

The wind mill was exhibited this week in London and will be up again in another exhibition, in Newcastle this time, from 28th June until 7th July.

Can you tell me something about the location of your pieces? One is in London and the other in Newcastle? The London one doesn't seem to be a typical white space gallery though. Who chose the locations and why?

Nelly: A few words about the project itself, which I think will make sense with the location where it is presented in a disused WWII air raid shelter in Dalston for London and in an art space at the Exlibris Gallery, Newcastle University, in Newcastle.

This project seeks to make the invisible airspace visible. It achieves this through the construction of a vertical object that empowers us to take back control of these spaces reserved for military purposes.

During the early years of aviation aircraft flew at a relatively low altitude. However, laws existed that gave land-owners ownership of the entirety of the vertical space above the footprint of their house, including the air. This led to a myriad of problems for aviators and landowners who became locked in battle over payment for access to these spaces.

More recently, wind farms have become a contentious issue. Environmentalists either protest their building in areas of natural beauty, or cry out for their erection to reduce our dependence of fossil fuels and nuclear power. The military dislikes wind farms because they create no fly-zones in the sky, because of their production of radar white noise, which prevents aircraft flying over them.

This project synthesises these ideas, proposing an activism approach the focuses upon the idea of being able to generate and enact your own airspace though the deployment of a personalised wind farm. This creates a form of mechanical imperialism, through enabling control of an individual airspace.