Singapore's ArtScience Museum is inviting visitors to drift away into alternative worlds with Floating Utopias, a new exhibition which opens on 25 May.

Ever since the first hot-air balloon ascended into the skies in the 18th century, inflatable objects have inspired the public's imagination, generating utopian dreams of castles in the sky, floating laboratories, and cloud cities. Floating Utopias is a playful and poetic exhibition that explores the social history of inflatable objects, showing how they have been used in art, architecture and social activism over the decades.

Visitors can expect a dazzling visual experience, with over 40 artworks by more than 15 international and local artists including Ant Farm, Tools for Action (Artúr van Balen and Tomás Espinosa), Eventstructure Research Group, Anna Hoetjes, Luke Jerram, Franco Mazzucchelli, Ahmet Öǧüt, Marco Barotti, Tomás Saraceno, Graham Stevens, The Yes Men and UFO.

The impressive impact of inflatable objects will be conveyed through eight large-scale air-filled sculptures which will be suspended in the galleries, creating a series of dramatic spectacles along the route of the show.

With the invention of the hot air balloon, humanity was able to leave the confines of the ground for the first time and experience the Earth from above. Floating Utopias explores how this pivotal invention shaped the way we understand the world and our place in it. It shows how ballooning became a source of mass fascination for the public in the 18th and 19th century, inspiring new modes of travel and communication, and prompting scientific innovation. It charts how a new generation of experimental architects began using inflatable structures in the 1960s, as they searched for new approaches to designing space. And it delves into the work of artists who have utilised inflatable objects in surreal, unexpected or unconventional ways. Throughout the exhibition, photographs, documents, and films show how inflatable objects have used for political purposes, historically in State parades and spectacles, and in more contemporary times, by activists as tools for protest.

“Floating Utopias is an exhibition that, in Singapore, could really only happen at ArtScience Museum. As with many of our shows it combines poetry and politics, pedagogy and play, technological innovation and artistic ingenuity. At its heart, Floating Utopias is a series of encounters with breathtaking floating artworks which dramatically occupy ArtScience Museum's striking curved gallery spaces. Sculptures are suspended in the air, compressed into uncomfortable spaces, sloped at unusual angles, and set adrift within the museum. The artworks on show variously inspire, disrupt, constrain, and embolden visitors to explore the history of inflatable objects, their social functions and how they have changed the way we look at our world,” said Honor Harger, Executive Director of ArtScience Museum.

“Floating Utopias navigates through the broad cultural history of inflatable art and architecture. It reveals the impact inflatables have had on the collective imagination. Throughout history pneumatic objects opened up new technological possibilities, thus becoming a projection surface for utopian visions. Inflatables bear a transformative aspect in themselves: formless bundles of material become instant voluminous spaces. Their light, mobile and ephemeral quality encourages people to be both playful participants and dazzled spectators. The instant, disruptive monumentality of inflatables allows us to question hierarchical power structures by reminding us that after all, everything is temporal,” said curators, Artúr van Balen, Fabiola Bierhoff, and Anna Hoetjes of Floating Utopias Foundation

Key Highlights Floating Utopias will be presented in five chapters: Balloon Fever, Display and Disrupt, Bubble Architecture, Solar Sustainability and Vertical Exploration.

Highlights include a dramatic outdoor installation, Castle of Vooruit (2012), by Turkish artist Ahmet Öğüt.

Castle of Vooruit (2012) by Ahmet Öğüt Courtesy of nGbk Berlin (2018); Photo copyright: Luca Girardini

One of the exhibition’s key works is a social sculpture, Mirror Barricade (2016), consisting of 18 silver reflective inflatable cubes, created by the group, Tools for Action (Artúr van Balen and Tomás Espinosa). The cubes can be assembled within seconds to form a barricade

Mirror Barricade (2016) by Tools for Action (Artúr van Balen and Tomás Espinosa) Courtesy of nGbk Berlin (2018); Photo copyright: Luca Girardini

SurvivaBall (2016) by The Yes Men is a series of inflatable suits that may look humorous and playful but carry a serious message about how humanity might have to prepare for future climate disasters.

SurvivaBall (2016) by The Yes Men

Courtesy of nGbk Berlin (2018); Photo copyright: Luca Girardini

World renowned Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno is present in the exhibition with the Aerocene Explorer, a personal solar-powered flight kit. The installation urges visitors to think about the possibility of environmental-friendly air travel that is energy independent.

Aerocene Explorer (2016) by Tomas Saraceno

Courtesy of nGbk Berlin (2018); Photo copyright: Luca Girardini