Wafaa Bilal’s #Technoviking is a giant inflatable head with a spiral goatee that is based on a popular meme first published to the internet video site YouTube in 2006. The original video featured a shirtless man reprimanding an over zealous dancer during a German street festival in 2000. The video quickly spawned a number of parodies and remixes and as of January 2013 the video had 16 million views. Nevertheless, the video’s popularity and responses inspired by it has gradually decreased; memes have a short shelf life and tend to burst onto the scene and then fade away.
For #Technoviking Bilal has isolated the iconic beard and sharp facial features of the man in the original video and blown them up to an absurd size; enabling people to interact with this meme in decline. The inflatable technoviking head is connected to a Twitter account. Every time the hashtag #technoviking is included in a tweet an air pump adds twenty seconds of air to the inflatable head. The head is precipitously loosing air because it is made out of a parachute material that is designed to be porous, so #technoviking needs constant Twitter attention to stay inflated and hold its shape and likeness to the original meme. Without Twitter attention the head deflates into an unrecognizable blob of material.
The inflatable avatar was supposed to be staged outside in the public triangle where Division, Ashland and Milwaukee Avenues cross each other. Due to rain the project was moved indoors to The Hub, where Rapid Pulse is hosting its public discourses and other events. Once inside and out of the rain, Bilal and his team of assistants worked to assemble the fan that inflated the head and placed sandbags inside the head to keep it from floating away. The head was inflated completely and then it was electronically connected via computer to the “Twitterverse.” Over the course of four hours the head inflated and deflated contouring the life and death of the technoviking meme in real time. Some participants in the room posted tweets with the hashtag just to keep the head inflated, while others did nothing hoping to see the big balloon head collapse in on itself. Watching the head inflate and then collapse felt similar to the experience of watching a pop-star’s life spiral up and then come crashing down. But the efforts to inflate or allow the head to deflate also reveal how attention from social media shapes our personal lives, our egos, and our sense of self-worth.
Bilal’s invitation for netizens to be directly, yet remotely, engaged with #technoviking is reminiscent of his most acclaimed work Domestic Tension (2007) in which he spent a month in a gallery with a loaded paintball gun that was controlled by internet users from around the world. The Internet has become a tool Bilal uses to create critical dialogue about our virtual and “real” interactions and the effect of the Internet on our lives.
Photo by Isabelle Maguire
Ross Jordan is a project manager in the Department of Exhibition and Exhibitions Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he recently received a dual masters degree in art history and arts administration. Before moving to Chicago, Ross completed a yearlong studio fellowship at Trinity College and a yearlong internship in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA. After moving to Chicago in 2010 Ross has worked to create dialogue between arts administrators and artists through studio visits and cross-disciplinary events. His most recent independent curatorial project was In/visible (2012) at Co-Prosperity Sphere in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood.