Eventstructure Research Group, »Pneu Show«, Bern 1968, Photograph: Pieter Boersma.

Inflatable objects are situated between the conflicting concepts of spectacle and participation: they disrupt  everyday routine and act as a surface for our projections. Thus, the historian Simon Schama understands the first hot air balloons that drifted out of the control of the French king in Versailles as a reversal of the social order. In contrast, the gigantomania of the pneumatic figures seen in Soviet marches and in US-American parades may be seen an exercise in the seduction of the masses.

How can inflatable objects resist being instrumentalized by the aesthetics of advertising and by authoritarian regimes? Ever since the 1960s, the availability of synthetic materials has enabled the democratization of inflatable spectacles, which were previously limited to states and industry. Radical groups of architects and artists joined the social movements of the era and used pneumatic happenings to support a critical counterculture. Common to them all is the exploration of participative spectacles that turn public spaces into playgrounds, create a sense of community, and question existing ideas about art, architecture, and society.