I’m wondering if it’s possible to experience anything through Instagram, as I scroll through the pneumatic work of Plastique Fantastique. I can see but can’t touch, obviously. So I’m immediately losing out, missing something. The Berlin-based studio is a self-described platform for temporary architecture that samples the performative possibilities of urban space. And with interventions that simultaneously appear as if they’ve come from another planet, the recent past and the near future, they twist my sense of time as I continue down the infinite hole. I alight on a picture I like and then cross-reference it with the projects on their website. I’m stalking, or researching; depending on your disposition.

Plastique Fantastique, founded in 1999, and currently run by Marco Canevacci & Yena Young makes good on the assertion that they’re a platform as much as a studio. Their website not only lists them as the ones behind it but includes a host of Collaborators and Guests too; creating a refreshingly horizontal approach to artistic production. Canevacci further explains that the idea of a platform came from the studio’s initial occupation of a 2000 sq metre former factory on the Friedrichshain riverside. The size of the space meant that they could organise a multitude of events including performances, installations and of course techno. The sheer amount of people passing through added to what they describe as their constellation – an ever-growing patchwork of collaborators from disparate backgrounds that differentiates them from the classical architectural office. I start to wonder what the Plastique Fantastique of contemporary Berlin would look like, now that space is at a premium.

But why am I focusing on the platform and not architecture? Well, because they are one and the same thing, and it’s through such constructs that we can experience a world different from our own. The writer Alan Smart, in an essay entitled Turtles (Counter-Signals #3, Other Forms), explores the notion of contemporary platforms: ‘Platforms… dictate the conditions of what is and what is not possible. Platforms are both prison and home, spectacular scaffolds or mute scaffolding, that which limits what can be said, done, and thought, as well as the thing that makes possible what never before was.’


It’s through this scaffolding that I can interact with the work of Plastique Fantastique. As I scroll through their website I find Space Invaders, a 2008 collaboration with Architettura Sonora in an empty Berlin house. An intervention that ends up looking more like an occupation, as visitors have to squeeze their way past translucent and brilliant white pneumatic bubbles. Will is required when entering these spaces. Although they look ephemeral, you’re compelled to force your way through two states of matter. These qualities of pressure are not what you necessarily associate with architecture, yet they are inherent to the practice of Dr. Bubble & Ms. Inflatable.

For them, however, the bubbles by themselves are not so interesting. It’s when they interact with people and their surroundings that they become something more. They want the visitors to stop being an audience and become actors or performers. This for Canevacci and Young, is when the perfect work is created; when the performers and their movements change the shape of the structure; when the actors mix with the inside and outside, the public and private, with or without rain. According to this formula the ideal melding of all these environmental and architectural qualities can be found in their 2017 project LOUD SHADOWS | LIQUID EVENTS – the result of a year-long collaboration with the composer Kate Moore, The Stolz Quartet and the choreographers LeineRoebana.

LOUD SHADOWS, part of the programme of the Oerol Festival, was a project that for them only worked because of the constellation. This confluence of practices meant a structure was built that responded directly to the environment as they ‘considered every single fucking tree in the forest’. Set on the island of Terschelling in the Netherlands and consisting of four stages, it brought both performers and nature together precisely by dividing them. The creation of a simple barrier emphasises the environment and repositions the experience we can have with space. The stages created, four in total, helped capture parts of the forest they inhabited. The first was a transparent dome apparently punctured by a tall pine tree whose intrusion should’ve sent the structure hissing, but didn’t. The second was a smaller dome made of milky translucent plastic that dissipated the light as it entered. The outside world was only visible when it applied pressure, the trees and their branches pressed against the plastic like grubby Victorian children staring longingly through the window at a plump, roast Christmas turkey. The third stage is captured space, space that is only defined because it has been encircled by an engorged artery that connects the other two. And the fourth? That’s the forest itself. All these elements combine to create a choreography of senses joining people and things. And all through their simple medium of air and plastic.


This year has seen no slowing down of the combination of those mediums. Yet when describing one of their latest projects, THE BIG MASS, they introduce the conclusion that ‘It is air which makes inflatables. Not plastic.’ This project was created for the Biela Noc Festival in Bratislava and featured a collage of their previous works. The combination of these inflatables is intended to not just emphasise the relationship between us the structures, but between the pieces themselves. The idea is to transform the main pneumatic body into a breathing organism; introducing a pulse into static spaces. The intent is to elicit a kind of ‘visceral behaviour’ from the different volumes when they’re placed in close proximity to each other. As with their previous projects the whole becomes greater than the sum, as all the actors combine creating something more forceful than the individual.

Then at the Venice Biennale this year the platform and their constellation created Blurry Venice. The Padiglione Venezia, commissioned by Maurizio Carlin and curated by Giovanna Zabotti, brought together a group of artists to explore the subject of the city itself, their reactions to it and the concept of Bodies in Alliance – ‘the claim that equality among individuals is not only spoken or written but is performed precisely when bodies appear together in space’. Plastique Fantastique created a space where the only clear borders you could find were opaque, and not even the floor could be relied on to elicit the material response we expect of it. The artwork, consisting of winding transparent pneumatic tunnels laid atop dark and presumably cold water, was periodically squeezed between the work of the Italian sculptor Fabio Viale. The artist’s briccole press in on the thin layer of white plastic, revealing weathered wooden beams. But only on physical inspection do you find out that what should be warm is cold, and that the things pressing in on the structure are actually made of marble; elaborate carvings intended to further skew our experience of the space. The piece is exactly what it intends to be, an imaginary landscape. And as the curatorial introduction states: ‘In our contemporary existence, the ability to see is the ability to know…. how is it possible for art to overcome the assumption that we have seen everything?’


Blurry Venice, in its sheer otherworldliness, introduces its visitors to an experience and an environment that allows them the chance to challenge some of their assumptions and inherent expectations of what reality has to offer. But, if one of the main aspects of this architecture is to elicit an experience, then where does that leave us? We, who can only experience it via pixels and ink. Daniel Felgendreher, a collaborator with the studio, wrote in an essay that their work is something ‘that people can project desires onto and that trigger their imagination’. But because most people will have to do this projecting when scrolling through a platform, their imagination must replace their senses. This kind of imagining, ironically, has to take place without a physical context. We can’t feel the trees or smell the streets, nor touch the gossamer layer separating worlds. We can’t feel the pressure. We can only do it vicariously through pictures and videos. Our eyes and creativity have to take the place of touch, balance and the sensitivity of our skin. We have to imagine that the hair on the backs of our arms will stand on end as we walk through these fluctuating structures. This puts the work in a bit of a dilemma as the studio wants their work to be more rooted in local participation than in the utopian politics of the Pneumatic movement of the 60s. So if the architecture is removed from space and when it is represented as an image the integral audience is missing, does it still function?

Space Invaders, 2008

I think the answer lies in the above paragraph because when I look I see vistas of futures, of biodomes on alien planets, of almost parasitic blobs clinging to a metropolis that ceased to be relevant or sustainable. The structures become seed pods, or maybe eggs or kernels, whatever the imagery you get the idea that they contain life, or the potential thereof. They symbolise a future, the future that was dreamed up in the last century. So my associations and projections become as subjective and random as wind on plastic or air pressure on a cello.

The graphic design studio Experimental Jetset can add to this. When writing about the Constructivist’s relationship to the city and their unbuilt structures they have this to say: ‘… it might be wrong to regard these unbuilt structures as “unrealised”. As the Australian academic Mary Gough suggested (in a recent essay on Gustav Klutsis’ fantastic Screen/Tribune/Radio/Orator/Kiosk drawings), a case can be made that these para-architectural proposals were indeed realised – the printing press. By being circulated through books and magazines, these sketches and collages gained a material dimension that can easily rival that of actual architecture…’ Earlier in the piece noting that ‘Within the constructivist imagination… the city was turned into a three-dimensional manifesto – language as a place to dwell.’

We can now add that the image is the place to dwell. So when scrolling with your thumb, find something you like and squeeze, apply pressure until the crystals create patterns and turn different colours, until you feel the screen warping and content bending. Then maybe you would have come close to being inside one of Plastique Fantastique’s pneumatic bubbles. Or maybe not, I’ve never been in one.


by Josh Plough

This article appeared in DAM74. Order your personal copy.