Alison and Nelly. Airspace Activism (Project Process)
June 6th, 2010

Alison: My motivation for getting involved in this project stems from my research on the geographies of UK military airspaces. Firstly, I am increasingly drawn to the idea of using visual representations to illustrate the complexities of the airspaces that I am researching. Having a tangible image or object would enable my work to be more approachable and easy to engage with for people without the knowledge-base otherwise required to understand the complexities of the spaces which I talk about. I am excited by the prospect of developing a project that would enable me to materialise these imagined spaces. Secondly, and related to this, I want to be able to provide a means by which my students can engage with the complexities of the airspaces that I teach them about. Finding different media with which to enthuse my students is central to my teaching rationale. I am hoping the project enables me to achieve some of these goals. I also hope that through discussing my work with a designer and developing a joint project on these invisible spaces my perceptions of how these hidden spaces can be articulated, represented and enacted will be challenged.

Nelly: I am a designer, interested in how we can use design and science in our everyday lives to make them more thrilling, creative and passionate. My work is about forming collaborations with experts, scientists and amateurs; it aims to ‘adapt science to our creative needs’. I enjoy pushing the boundaries of design and science through performances and installations. My practice involves visiting scientific sites (laboratories, Cern, offices, etc) to inspire me to build artefacts and experiences to facilitate and encourage surreal interactions between audiences and scientists. However, in the Interventions project, this interaction with the key subjects of the research (military aviators) was unachievable, which created new challenges. I was very intrigued by the challenge of making invisible spaces visible to a broad audience, to make the pilot expert knowledge more widely accessible to non-experts and illustrating the performances that enact airspace.



We began our collaboration by Alison sharing her research with Nelly, sending her written work and transcripts of interviews with military pilots and navigators. From this Nelly identified several key phrases that could inspire a design proposal. We discussed them and over the course of two days developed three ideas to take forward;




Brief 1 – Activating airspace
Context – this idea focuses upon the relationship between an airspace expert and amateurs in order to illustrate a ‘second nature use of airspace’ manifesto. The project will ask questions about the choices about access to airspace, and questions whether it only exists when aircraft are in it. This proposes an activism/activating of the airspace – a mechanical imperialism and develops a focus upon an augmented reality which is enacted through the aircraft. This work seeks to consider hybrid aircraft, redefining aircraft through considering the mechanical and the body.
Methodology – this project will use toy aeroplanes to illustrate the questions of where airspace is, how airspace is enacted by aircraft, and how we might affect choices about the production of airspace.
References/notes: Thomas Hirshorn, use of windfarms, Bermuda triangle, white noise, Panamarenko, Maywa Denki, Film Survive style 5+ …

Brief 2 – The Theatre in the Air
Context – this project thinks about how airspace is a performance, how the movement of aircraft physically enacts airspace. It uses both natural and mechanical theatre to explore the performance and performative aspects of airspace. It will be poetic in nature.
Methodology – this project will use actors and a theatre set, with curtain, as a stage for the performance. Some people will take the role of directing aircraft from the ground. The stage curtain will also play an important role in illustrating the vertical dimension of airspace. This project may take the form of a film.
Reference – Girl in the House film, Miyazaki-The castle in the sky.



Brief 3 – Crafting Airspace -“that’s a great piece of air!”
Context – The idea behind this brief is to produce a piece of work that illustrates the ways in which invisible airspace can be rendered visible through an illustration of the way it is crafted as such. It considers whether we can tailor airspace to our own needs, thinking about how specialised airspaces are invoked for certain activities. It will consider the value of airspaces, incorporating what might be termed a ‘vertical economics’.
This approach brings notions of lived spatiality to the fore and uses a variety of materials to creatively challenge airspace and its use. What if we could colour clouds? It also focuses upon the idea that you could book (or buy) pieces of airspace, perhaps the airspace above your house or favourite landmark?
Methodology – this uses materials, such as wooden planks, to illustrate the borders of airspaces. Other ideas include illustrating airspace through the use of coloured clouds to visualise the invisible. This project could take the form of some sort of physical representation of the different uses airspace can be put to. It might be a board game or map.
This project will use ‘vox pops’ interviews to generate a list of different uses that pieces of airspace could be used for. Ideas might include ‘setting off fireworks’ or ‘sky-painting your name’.
References: 9 red arrows, wood models….
Nelly conducted some experiments with these ideas, using a ‘messy process’ approach to develop them and to discover their potential. We discussed these and decided on a final project.

Final Brief – Airspace activism

This project seeks to bring together two seemingly disparate aspects of airspace knowledge and usage to disrupt our traditional understandings and un-awareness of airspace and to promote questioning of how airspace is controlled and used by the military and how we as individuals might take back that control.
During the early years of aviation aircraft flew at a relatively low altitude, over houses and other buildings en route from place to place. However, especially in the US, laws existed that gave land-owners ownership of the entirety of the vertical space above the footprint of their house and land, including the air. Stuart Banner’s excellent book describes the problems that unfolded for aviators and owners who became locked in battle over access to these spaces and whether payment for their use was due.
More recently, wind farms have become contentious within the UK over recent years. Environmentalists either protest their construction in areas of natural beauty, or cry out for their erection to reduce our dependence of fossil and nuclear power. However, the military has another reason to dislike wind farms; they create no-go zones in the sky through their production of radar white noise, preventing pilots seeing where they are going and so requiring them to divert their planned routes.

This project takes this concern with wind farms forward, proposing an activism approach the focuses upon the idea of being able to activate your own airspace though the deployment of a personalised wind farm, which would prevent aircraft flying over it. This creates a form of mechanical imperialism, through the enablement of the control of individual air spaces. The project involves the creation of both the wind farm and an audio locator that amplifies the sound of an aircraft engine, thus developing a focus upon an augmented reality which is enacted through the enabling of the wind farm owner to hear an aircraft at distance and erect the wind farm in time to prevent the aircraft flying overhead.

The process of creating the ‘airspace activism’ project has been incredibly intense and challenging in many ways. Firstly, it was fascinating to talk about ideas about making airspaces visible and how we could blend academic ideas with design practice. Our final project is a joint effect, honed from ongoing conversations, practical experiments, and sharing information at every step. The project aims to question one aspect of the research is a clear, yet innovative way, to inform and hopefully stimulate discussions on the hidden geographies of UK military airspaces.






4 Responses to “Alison and Nelly. Airspace Activism (Project Process)”

  1. Airspace Activism: Compelling New Art and an Interview with Nelly Ben Hayoun and Dr. Alison J. Williams | International News - Stay up to date with the latest World News, Finance & Business, Green News, Technology and Sports Says:

    [...] and The Soyuz Chair, you might know) and geography researcher Dr. Alison J. Williams teamed up for Airspace Activism, a project that investigates the geographies of UK military airspaces which are used by air forces [...]

  2. Airspace Activism: Compelling New Art and an Interview with Nelly Ben Hayoun and Dr. Alison J. Williams | test title Says:

    [...] and The Soyuz Chair, you might know) and geography researcher Dr. Alison J. Williams teamed up for Airspace Activism, a project that investigates the geographies of UK military airspaces which are used by air forces [...]

  3. Airspace Activism | mediarosa Says:

    [...] The Soyuz Chair, you might remember) and geography researcher Dr Alison J Williams teamed up for Airspace Activism, a project that investigates the geographies of UK military airspaces which are used by air forces [...]

  4. Making Invisible Airspace Visible - PSFK Says:

    [...] with the politics of space and ephemera, Nelly Ben Hayoun and Dr. Allison J. Williams have created Airspace Activism, which involves a series of investigations of the UK military’s use of air [...]

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