Final Inflatable “Balloon” Project– Space and Materiality

For my final project for my Space and Materiality class, the class was tasked into splitting into groups for the purposes of creating a inflatable balloon project centering around an environmental theme or a theme involving the effect of plastic on the world. The inflatable could be of any animal or object, and could feature typography and symbolism, according to the steps and guidelines of the project. Prior to the construction of the final inflatable, each individual was tasked with practicing their skills in creating their own mini inflatables by taking stuffed animals brought from home, cutting them open by their seams to reveal the cotton and stuffing crammed inside, arranging and tracing the outside “pieces” of the stuffed animal (bordered by their seams) onto both bristol paper (for reference) and the surface of plastic bags, cutting these same plastic bags into replicas of the seamed pieces that surrounded the stuffing of the original stuffed animals, and cramming all the revealed stuffing from before into the “new’ stuffed animal with a different plastic “skin”. For my initial preparation for the construction of my group’s eventual inflatable, I took a spherical stuffed plushy of the Earth (with little arms and legs), cut it open by its seams to reveal a round sphere of cotton stuffing, arranged the pieces on my working table, traced them onto paper and plastic, and stapled or taped the plastic pieces together with most of the original stuffing inside. (Pictures can be found below).

Following the modest success of the “new” Earth plushy (the sphere looked more like a mango shaped mess of plastic and cotton when I was done with it), I was placed in a team to work on a final inflatable balloon project– its steps modeled after the initial prototypes the class brought in with each student’s stuffed animal from home. On the “first” day of class in which the team met up to discuss what we were actually going to do for the inflatable project, several ideas were thrown around. Sticking to the environmental theme from before, one teammate thought doing a human face composed of plastic or silicon as if it were undergoing extreme plastic surgery to suggest not necessarily the dangers of plastic to the environment, but how it has come to define our current generation that has become obsessed with beauty and perfection as well as today’s modern surgical and medical procedures that replace defective biological parts of our body with artificial new ones. The human face idea ended up not being considered because another team was already doing a human head. That left my team with an idea I came up with involving an inflatable puffer fish that would be spherical like my Earth plushy, but have spikes and fins like a real pufferfish. The puffer fish would have a hole for the air tube to blow air into, but also have another hole in which a knotted “string” of plastic bags could be pulled out from inside an inner layer inside the puffer fish. In order to prevent the puffer fish from deflating (thinking about this mechanism took a while) through the second hole from where the plastic string would come from, I came up with a diagram illustrating that the second hole could be surrounded by an inner cylindrical tube that would block air from leaving that particular area of the inflatable.

Throughout the week of the final project’s introduction, my team assigned roles to each of its members (such as Secretary– I was in charge of the initial concept and idea of the project with the whole puffer fish initiative). Keeping with the environmental theme, the fact the puffer fish inflatable has plastic inside of it would communicate the idea of sea pollution, which is what my team decided would eventually be the main theme of the puffer fish project. We all went to a nearby Babies R’ Us to look for inspiration (in baby toys of all things) for our Puffer fish inflatable, and found a soccer ball to base our puffer fish design out of (which I, once again, did the diagram for).

Going into aesthetics, we chose to have the outer surface of the puffer fish be multicolored for the sake of giving our inflatable artistic elegance. The pentagons from our “soccer ball” design of the body of the puffer fish would be red, and the other hexagons would be either green, yellow, or purple in color. I had the idea of arranging the colors of all the hexagons and pentagons in such a way that it would obey the constraints set out in the mathematical “Four Colors Theorem”, which states that in a map, it is possible to color every country or region of that map one of four different colors without making two countries or regions of the same color be adjacent to one another, only diagonal or buffered by a third color in between. As of the time of the writing of this post, my team brought in several plastic bags of different colors as well as a bunch of clear bags to cut and lay flat in preparation for cutting. One teammate already had a donut shaped piece of cardboard (I think) cut for the template for the mouth of the puffer fish, which would be where we as a group could pull out a string of plastic from according to my design. Since there was a lack of green bags among my teammates for the outer layer of the puffer fish, I asked for some green bags in the New School UC Commons Cafeteria, and managed to get 3 or 4.

UPDATE: Since the last couple of weeks, my team has been cutting out the net designs for the eventual sphere that we comprise the puffer fish inflatable out plastic bags that have been ironed together. I was in charge of creating the spikes for the puffer fish that I planned, and so I took some brown paper from the Making Center, and traced and cut circles of different radii and diameters to create smaller or larger cones that would be large enough and suitable enough to cover the holes in the puffer fish whilst also preventing air from leaking out. We as a team chose to do our spikes about 4.5-5 inches in radii, or 9-10 inches in diameter, and ironed them after I traced my brown paper circle onto several colored pairs of plastic bags (already ironed flat to each other to provide stability and to prevent leaks). One of my teammates made progress with the “mouth” of the puffer fish, which I will show below alongside all that has been done thus far. Recently, I managed to cut 9 circles to form 9 spikes from a combination of plastic bags and some spare red tablecloth I found around my house.

UPDATE (as of May 7, 2017): My team managed to iron out all the plastic bag templates for the surface of the puffer fish, and all the spikes needed (minus one hole to fit the air tube) to stick out from the puffer fish. The donut shaped mouth was placed on top. Below are pictures of the templates prior to being ironed and afterwards (the finale!)

FINAL UPDATE (May 10, 2017): On the day of the presentation of our team’s puffer fish inflatable, we added some last minute touches such as a tail, and tied together the string of plastic bags and tablecloth that would go in the mouth of the inflatable according to my original design. We ran into some last minute problems with holes and tears, but we fixed them up fairly quickly with tape. Test-inflating our puffer fish so many times also led to the inflatable not inflating as much as before, probably due to wear and tear in the plastic of the inflatable, and also because, at first, a heat gun was used rather than an intense air blower. The final puffer fish result, although fantastically executed, and very much interactive with volunteers pulling the plastic bag string out of the puffer fish’s “mouth”, looked less spherical and more like a pumpkin for some reason, though the spikes stayed on.

The presentation was done in the Parsons lobby (1st floor near the side entrance of the building near the back elevators with the techno art exhibits). Check out the video below (taken on my phone).

Below are pictures of my initial Earth plushy plastic prototype prior to the puffer fish inflatable, the process of me creating it from my original Earth plushy full of cotton, and pictures of my diagram for the puffer fish inflatable, and our team’s progress so far in creating the pieces needed for the inflatable.

Earth Plush (Front– it’s adorable)

Earth Plush (Left side)

Earth Plush (Right side)

Earth Plush (Back)

Earth Plush (North Pole)

Earth Plush (South Pole– underbelly)

Labeled Pieces of Earth Plushy for Tracing and Reconstructing from Plastic

Finished “New” Earth Plushy made from plastic, staples, and tape

Soccer Ball Plush– Inspiration for Puffer Fish Body

Donut Plush– Inspiration for Puffer Fish Mouth

“Sketch” for Puffer Fish Body

Conical Spike “Sketch” for Puffer Fish

Puffer Fish Diagram


Colorful Plastic Bags brought (Green bags not shown)

Various cones (3 sizes)– we chose the middle one

Clear Plastic Bags brought

Cone Diagram

Ironed Plastic Bag “Sheet”

Iron (used for ironing bags together)

Tablecloth and Brown Paper

Puffer Fish Mouth/Lips (made from tablecloth)

My cut cone templates (3 from red tablecloth)

Cut templates for Puffer Fish Sphere (with holes for spikes). There are 5 templates– 3 are not shown (there should be 8)

Spiked Templates (not arranged)

Spiked Templates (arranged in floral pattern for ironing)

Inflated Puffer Fish (prior to presentation)



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