Balenciaga explodes with an in-store art installation that translates its fall collection into inflatable dolls

Inflatable air puppets are no longer limited to waving at passers-by in street gas stations and car washes. Thanks to Balenciaga, the floppy fun bags have found their way into the luxury sector. Eschewing chic, bland mannequins, the brand opted for kinetic explosion sculptures of its Fall 2022 runway models for the windows of its flagship store in Midtown Manhattan.

“For me, the excitement is that you have no idea how they’re going to come out,” Rosie McGinn said. the 28-year-old artist responsible for the undulating tableaus. “They always look a little stranger than you think.”

Model Wulfran Merly wears denim with neon in the Fall 2022 Lookbook. Courtesy of Balenciaga.

McGinn is the latest artist-in-residence for the brand’s Art in Stores initiative (past participants have included Anna Uddenberg and Tejo Remy), and Balenciaga’s Creative Director Demna handpicks the staff. Given Demna’s ability to elevate the everyday to his vision of fashion, it’s no wonder McGinn’s wry and playful worldview made an impression.

“Honestly, when I first got the email from them, I had to send it to my friend to confirm it was real,” says McGinn, who works as a gallery technician when she’s not in her own London studio is in Lewisham. “It was a new experience working in fashion rather than the art world,” she said. “It took a lot of back and forth and editing, but it was pretty easy.”

The poses of the puppets range from standing at attention with arms outstretched in triumph to slumping, shapeless masses piled on the floor (a timer triggers them). The fascinating transition from merry bustle to slack grotesque and back again is one of the reasons McGinn was drawn to this idiosyncratic medium. “It’s like ten seconds of joy and then two minutes of deflation after that,” she says. “The work is about people who always want to chase their high, and then the reality of the descent.”

Kinetic sculptures by Rosie McGinn adorn the windows of the Madison Avenue flagship.  Courtesy of Balenciaga.

They might explode, but they won’t: Rosie McGinn’s kinetic sculptures adorn the windows of the Madison Avenue flagship. Courtesy of Balenciaga.

After the initial installation earlier this summer, only one stylish airship remains at the Madison Avenue location (it will be on display through October). Then it goes to Los Angeles, followed by Toronto. The other sculptures are currently touring stores in Europe and Asia.

McGinn’s first exposure to air puppets was in her 2018 Masters project at Wimbledon College of Arts. “Full Howse” featured a gigantic woman in a leopard blouse whose sublime bingo win collapses into a mound of impotent physicality. “I wanted to find a company to make it for me,” says Rosie, “but obviously because I was a student I was skinny.”

So, The artist has developed her own process to create the balloon sculptures by hand. “I photograph the front and back and all the details of the hands and stuff like that,” she says. “Then I edit them and have them printed on ripstop nylon, which is made from parachute material. Then I cut and sew everything together. That’s basically the premise, but of course there’s a lot of technical stuff.” Add to that the same inflation mechanism that powers bouncy castles, lots of air, and the participation of friends and family.

The artist poses with the air puppet of a bingo enthusiast/her grandmother.  Courtesy of the artist.

Rosie McGinn poses with her bingo-loving grandmother’s air doll. Courtesy of the artist.

McGinn’s grandmother was the model for her bingo behemoth. Rosie’s house party guests inspired spontaneous photos. She then turned them into DJs and boisterous ravers for a one-man show, SNOB, at Birmingham’s Recent Activity. She has also shown a series based on sports. “I’ve been looking at how people go to these rituals and events where they want to win,” McGinn said, “all these situations where you put yourself around people in communities to feel alive.”

As a multimedia artist, McGinn’s primary focus is sculpture, but she’s just filmed Cosmic Dancer, a show that features air puppets and paintings. With more group shows confirmed, she’s embroiled in an upcoming video project loosely based on the “overview effect” — “that’s how astronauts feel when they first see Earth floating in space,” explained McGinn. “This psychological aspect will interfere with my sculptures.”

Rosie McGinn's 2019 blow-up rave installation. Courtesy of the artist.

Raise your hands in the air! An installation view of Rosie McGinn’s “Ravers” (2019). Courtesy of the artist.

McGinn said she was inspired by William Shatner’s post-Space Jaunt interview on his Blue Origin rocket mission. “It’s that surreal moment,” she says. “Champagne pops up in the background and William Shatner is obviously so impressed with what he just saw and he’s really trying to explain. It’s pretty nice and raw, and then Jeff Bezos is standing next to him like a robot trying to absorb his humanity. Basically, it’s this idea that people want to go into space and how crazy it is that we want to leave the earth when we left it in a little chaos.” Nevertheless, the artist sees a common thread: “It’s this constant search for something exploring all corners of the universe. We’re pretty restless creatures.”

Rosie McGinn's handmade lycra air doll

A detail of Rosie McGinn’s handcrafted air puppet billy (2022), shown at the Slugtown Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne. Courtesy of the artist.

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