A modern-day nomad who moves as she pleases :: Ana Rewakowicz
In the world today nothing is far or near anymore. Being abroad no longer means being away from ‘home’. The ideas of identity and belonging have shifted as we move into fast growing globalization and technological advancements. My work reflects upon these questions and brings the idea of ‘home’ to Nomadism that denies the dream of a homeland with the result that home, being portable, is available, everywhere. John Berger said: “Home is represented not by a house, but by a practice or set of practices. Everyone has his own.”1 And I have developed my own.
In 2001 I covered an entire room in my Montreal apartment with multiple layers of rubber latex. Once set, I peeled the surface off and ended up with a transportable ‘skin’ containing original mouldings, cracks but also other remains like dirt and hair. Later on, an external support structure with multiple in-between pieces holding two layers together was added so the room could be inflated. Presented in the larger gallery space the sculpture created a two-folded viewing situation allowing the visitor to look at the exterior structure of ‘a room within a room’, as well as to enter into it to experience the whimsical and unsettling space inside. Inside Out gives the illusion of ‘stability’ and ‘comfort’ but in the air-inflated room there is nothing to catch onto when losing one’s balance and part of people’s experience entering the room was falling over. If you weren’t careful you would hit the floor. Three years later, in 2004, I took my inflatable room on a cross Canada trip (Montreal/Vancouver/Montreal). For a period of one month (September/October) I travelled in a van carrying the inflatable room and set it up at different urban (local parks, underground abandoned basements, private and public backyards, unoccupied buildings, street corners) and rural (parks, campsites, abandoned villages, no man’s land) locations across the country in an attempt to live out of it. In the Travelling with my inflatable room video, produced based on the documentation of this process, I combined my personal experiences of displacement with the history of North America, and through the enduring relation with the most unpractical ‘tent’ that involved getting up every two hours to re-inflate so it wouldn’t collapse and suffocate me, reflected on the elements of human and technological failure and vulnerabilities.
photos: Ana Rewakowicz, Travelling with my inflatable room, 2005, video stills.
Â© Ana Rewakowicz
According to the seventh generation philosophy of the Native American Iroquois Confederacy, chiefs have to always consider the effects of their actions on their descendants through the seventh generation in the future. In the “Nomadology: The War Machine”, Gilles Deleuze said that nomads are nomads because they refuse to leave; they bring something from elsewhere and take something with them but they do not leave.2 “The end of job for life, of the welfare state, the erosion of national boundaries and international competition all lead to a life of uncertainty and risks. The modern person has to re-learn to be active in a moving world.”3
Imagine yourself stripped to the bare minimum, where all you need is a room you can carry in your pocket and inflate wherever you go. “Living with less” and “the possibility of having it all without having a thing”4 are the notions that stand behind Martin Ruiz de Azua’s (Barcelona-based artist and designer) Basic House project produced in 1998.5 Or imagine travelling through unknown lands, through cities and natural reserves, without relying on overbooked hotel-rooms, intricate tent-structures, or camping sites, where you can trek around the globe fully ‘off-the-grid’ and independently.
photos: Martin Ruiz de Azua, Basic House, 1998.
Â© Martin Ruiz de Azua
Expanding on Archigram’s concept of ‘clothing for living in’, the SleepingBagDress prototype consists of a multipurpose kimono-dress that when inflated changes into a cylindrical container inhabitable by one or two people and is part of the larger research and development Dressware project that evolves around the idea of clothing as portable architecture in ‘you never know WEAR ?’ situations of local and global emergencies. Considering how our lives have become multi-dimensional and multi-demanding, this work attempts to comment on global uncertainties and the relation between technology and everyday life. The SleepingBagDress prototype looks at the portability and self-sustainability of a wearable cell, comfortable as both, a dress and a temporary shelter and operates on a small computer fan powered by NiMH batteries that are then in return charged by a solar panel incorporated into the dress itself. The SleepingBagDress prototype has been used in walking performances and public interventions in Mexico City, Toulouse, Brussels and, as part of the International Symposium of Electronic Art (ISEA 2004), in Tallinn (Estonia). In Mexico City I took individual appointments with different people to go to their favourite places in the city in order to occupy them in my dress. Inside, I conducted short interviews, collecting personal stories about these places and people’s idea of belonging in a language of their choice. The idea of a portable home brought forward a variety of questions about social relations and different ways in which we relate to each other ; be it to our ‘self’, a neighbour, a family, a community or a foreigner. Inside a gallery space, the video documentation from these interventions was projected into a large-scale replica of the sleeping bag dress cylinder and viewers were able to enter the inflatable structure, comfortably lie down and remotely select different parts of the 24-minute footage.
Above left : Ana Rewakowicz, SleepingBagDress prototype (Brussels), 2003-2004.
Above right and below : Ana Rewakowicz, SleepingBagDress prototype (Tallinn), 2003-2004.
photos : Maja Kuzmanovic
Basic House and SleepingBagDress are not about practical solutions as it wouldn’t be so comfortable to sleep on nothing more than a thin piece of foil that could easily rip or there is the likelihood of running out of oxygen inside the SleepingBagDress prototype. Their intent is to re-think attitudes towards the concept of living and comfort and bring attention to the issues of what kind of effect modern day mobility has on culture and society, and on our understanding of place and experience of public space. Perhaps if it wouldn’t be so ‘comfortable’ or ‘easy’ we wouldn’t be so interested in mobility today?
In Uniblow Outfits, made from double layers of rubber latex, people have to walk in order to inflate themselves using foot-pump shoes. But with each step, walking becomes harder as the inner layer of rubber latex squeezes the body and restricts its movement. The more inflated you become, the less flexibility you have. In the Protected video piece people struggle walking up the hill in a park. There are cars passing by and birds flying away but nothing else happens, only the monotonous sound of foot-pumps and an isolated image of two people supporting each other in their awkward gestures remains.
Ana Rewakowicz, Protected, 2002, video still.
Stability is what created the greatness of all ancient civilizations we admire. It is their remains of buildings, monuments and objects that we study and not the cultures of nomadic tribes we call ‘barbarians’.6 Entering the 21st century are we still concerned with what is going to stay behind, or are we ready to evaluate our attitudes and needs for mobility in a society of airspace travels and global warming?
In the winter of 2005, in collaboration with Steve Topping, a parabolic in shape inflatable structure was constructed and used as a form for the build-up of ice. A spray of mist, from the low-pressure nozzles inserted into the inflatable and supported from the inside by an infrastructure of flexible tubing, allowed for a natural formation of ice on the surface. Water pumped directly from the canal was used for the ice-build-up. When the ice layer was shaped (overnight 8-10 hours) the form was deflated, taken out and moved to a new location in order to start the process again, leaving a transparent ice-shell behind that would eventually disappear.
Ana Rewakowicz, Ice Domes, 2005.
photo : Ana Rewakowicz
But who ‘moves’ and travels? And why? Is it a businessman or a trendy teen equipped with electronic devices, or an artist looking for a new (different) cultural inspiration, or an immigrant who looks for means to provide a better living, or a refugee escaping a political regime, or a hobo? What is the cost of a mobile lifestyle today? How can we bridge the comfortable and pleasing expectations of the privileged with the necessity of underprivileged? How can we link the opposing sides?
The Green Line project that took place in Helsinki (Finland) last December (2006), involved experimentation with an inflatable line stretching over water from the Lauttasaari island toward the Cable Factory on the mainland that visually represented a link (a second bridge) from one side to another. The Green Line project was a proposition of landscape drawings with inflatable lines made from the biodegradable material Bioska developed and produced by the Finnish company Plastiroll Oy, and was inspired by my daily bike trips between Espoo and Helsinki over the Lauttasaari bridge that stood for the mid point of my journey and gave me a particular sense of being ‘there’, either in Helsinki or Tapiola depending on the direction of travel. Similarly, the half-kilometer line I attempted to create was a mid point of distance measured in kilometers. Interestingly the line didn’t inflate in a straight line; it twisted and turned just as human relations do.
Ana Rewakowicz, Green Line, 2006.
photos : Kalle Hamm
We look towards technology with the expectation of providing solutions and changing the environment for us. But perhaps before producing more technologically advanced and pleasing gadgets that we then have to figure out how to depose of, we should think about changing our cultural and social attitudes toward living. I find it interesting that in the light of globalization and mobility, when we are concerned with the environment, global warming and population growth, we still desire so much solidity and material preservation!7
The 20th century utopias received a bad rap by the post-modern skepticism that set in as of the 1970’s but interestingly enough, utopia from the Greek words ‘ou’ – “no” and ‘topos’ â€“ place or land means ‘no-place’ or ‘no-land’. And I believe that we still need a little bit of utopia and vision to progress and we as artists and designers have an important role to make: we can harmonize aesthetic aspects with technical, economic and social issues and play an important role in the social and cultural future. Because if we leave engineers, IT experts or marketing strategists to handle technologies on their own, all what we might end up with is a pragmatic realization of what is technically feasible and economically desirable.
 John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos (London: Writers and Readers, 1984), p. 64
 “Nomads naturally resist any authority that undermines their freedom of movement. The sedentary naturally represses his nomadic tendencies because they bring instability. Nomadism undermines the structural stability of sedentary society.” – www.nomadology.com/conflicts.html
 Courtenay Smith and Sean Topham, Xtreme Houses (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 2002), p.152.
 Basic House was made from a reversible metalized polyester film developed but never commercially produced by the PaÃ¯ Thio Company.
 Courtenay Smith and Sean Topham, Xtreme Houses (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 2002), p.9.
 Abundance of cheap goods only produces more garbage.
John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos (London: Writers and Readers, 1984).
Courtenay Smith and Sean Topham, Xtreme Houses (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 2002).
Sean Topham, Blowup (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 2002).
Gilles Deleuze, Nomadology: The War Machine (A K Pr Distribution; New Ed edition, July 1994).
Ana Rewakowicz (www.rewana.com) is a Polish-born, Ukrainian artist and researcher living in MontrÃ©al, Canada. She works with inflatables and explores relations between temporal, portable architecture, the body and the environment. Her inflatable clothes, site-specific installations and public interventions have been exhibited and experienced nationally and internationally in Mexico, France, Belgium, Estonia, Scotland, Bulgaria, Germany, Netherlands and Finland. Recent solo exhibitions include Dressware and other inflatables at the Foreman Art Gallery at Bishop’s University, Canada (2006), A modern-day nomad who moves as she pleases at Plein Sud, Canada (2005) and Ice Dome Project on the Lachine Canal in MontrÃ©al (2005). Her work has been featured in group exhibitions at Kunstverein Wolfsburg, Germany (2006), MusÃ©e d’art contemporain de MontrÃ©al (2005) and ISEA 2004 (Tallinn, Estonia). Presently she is researching and developing the SR-Hab (Socially responsive habitat) project.
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