Black Airground

By Jeffrey Shaw

Eventstructure Research Group (1968–1979), Black Airground: Folded imprint for exhibition Pneu Show at Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 19 Nov – 22 Dec, 1968 (folded). Print and mixed media, 188 × 153 mm. DMC 2626r.

For Black Airground the artists – Jeffrey Shaw, Theo Botschuijver and Sean Wellesley-Miller – positioned three black military surplus parachutes in a row on the floor of the gallery in the Oxford Museum of Art, entirely filling the exhibition space. Weighted around their rims with sand, these parachutes were continuously inflated with air so that their silk fabric delicately ballooned upwards into the room.

Eventstructure Research Group (1968–1979), Black Airground: Folded imprint for exhibition Pneu Show at Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 19 Nov – 22 Dec, 1968. Print and mixed media, 482 × 375 mm. DMC 2626r.

Darkness engulfed the entire exhibition space. The only potential sources of illumination were three transparent thousand-watt tungsten filament light bulbs, each hanging above the centre of one parachute. The brightness levels of these three lamps were individually modulated by the volume of the sounds that visitors made, and each of the lamps was also tuned to separately respond to one individual frequency: low-, medium- and high-pitched. So, in effect, the installation remained invisible and in darkness until visitors themselves made sounds, and the volume and pitch of the sounds they made dynamically modulated the overall lighting conditions of this artwork.

Eventstructure Research Group (1968–1979), Black Airground: Folded imprint for exhibition Pneu Show at Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 19 Nov – 22 Dec, 1968 (verso). Print and mixed media, 375 × 482 mm. DMC 2626v.

Peter Dockley made a special performance for the opening of this installation. Dressed as a deep-sea diver, he swung from a swing above the parachutes, which were being pumped full of and emanating smoke.

Extracted from the Jeffrey Shaw Compendium