Mahtava, which is a movable site specific inflatable art installation, is designed to be a show-piece. Tendrils emerge from a pod that seems to breathe, dangling over the central market, moving and changing colors to create joyful fun while the DJ and others jam out.
The process of creating “Mahtava,” which means spectacular or awesome in Finnish began simply with the theme for FOOLmoon this year: Unidentified FOOLish Objects (UFO’s), and was spurred along by the encouragement to make something large and inflatable to fit in my suitcase.
Assembli (formerly known as WonderFOOL Productions) was prescient: Little did they know in December and January when choosing the theme that in February, news across the United States would center first on actual UFO’s that turned out to be Chinese spy balloons, and a more mysterious civilian one shot down near Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, still not recovered.
People were meant to wonder: Is it a seedpod? A flower? A sea creature? A supernova?
Art-based Research Process
The reality is that Mahtava is all of those things.
Last fall, walking along Leverett Pond on the border of Boston and Brookline, I had seen some beautiful little sycamore pods, and picked them up, admiring them through the winter, and their spiky form inspired me to doodle and manipulate photos at the start of my design process for what was to become Mahtava.
Although the final form is static, the design process still involved research drawings. You can see in the video how my thought process emerged around the sycamore pod, becoming more of a supernova by the end.
Once I’d figured out the general form of what I was going to build, I started drawing schematics. You can see my concept sketch of how I first imagined the breathing process would look in profile.
Then I started rapid prototyping with paper and plastic bags to get a materials estimate. The form became more geometric and the tendrils grew elongated because it seemed more dramatic as the creature breathed. I wanted to make sure it was heavy enough to make the process of opening dramatic.
As the design process moved forward, and it became clearer how the piece would fit in, I considered the space and the context of the event. Where in the Ann Arbor Farmers Market would the piece have the most impact? How would people interact with it safely? Could there be a community design process?
Once we knew what I was going to build, it was time to build and test the project, and because the process is part of the work itself for me, I made sure to document as I went. You can see the whole process on my instagram account.
Ultimately, the participation at the event was much higher than expected. Young people interacted gently with the space creature. They petted and played with like a cat: It doesn’t like it’s tails stepped on, or pulled. Adults took selfies, surrounded by light, and felt it move with them. It evoked compassion and joy, nestled behind the DJ, and next to the Space Garden.
Thank you to all those who came, and especially to the team at Assembli and TLS Productions who were very helpful both through the design process and on the day of the event. And of course a huge thank you to Destination Ann Arbor who sponsored my piece.