Butterfly Searchin’ for a Relax

Butterfly Searchin' for a Relax


Butterfly Searchin’ for a Relax is an installation with a stage set room and two remote-controlled models of WW2 tanks. The audience entered the exhibition space with the two tanks running on the floor, and at the far end stood a large wooden construction with two black cones protruding from each side. After the initial confusion a cat and mouse game usually ensued, the audience being chased by the tanks until they discovered the hidden door into the control room at the back of the exhibition space. Inside this room there were two chairs, two remote-control stations with video monitors, two opposing windows with a view of landscape flying past far below the room, the sound of wind, a lamp and a painting. When seated at the controls the visitors could choose either the blue or red monitor and control one of the tanks.


We let this installation borrow it’s title from the first line in Digable Planets song “Pacifics (NY is Red Hot)” from their 1993 album, “Reachin’ (a new refutation of time and space)”. The song is about singer Ishmael Butler’s (Butterfly) New York sunday search for jazz, friends, cold drinks and art.

“Who me? I’m coolin’ in New York, I’m chillin’ in New York
The hoods is on my block and the brothers at the court
The baseball hats is on and the projects is calm
Dream time’s extended and highly recommended”

In our installation we made two distinct, mirrored worlds. A fake room, with a fake view and a real computer game with real people. The butterfly searching for a relax in our installation was the gamer, shutting out a complicated world for a few hours, diving into the other reality – the computer game. The analogy could hide a darker side. In the world of Lepidopterists relaxing a butterfly has a different meaning: the dead butterfly having closed it’s wings needs to be “relaxed” using chemicals to let the wings be opened so the specimen can be pinned in it’s box. Is the relaxing of the mind, playing, inventing and dreaming the way for us to spread our wings – does the modern automated reality have an oppressive effect on us?

John Adams, the second president of the United States and a child of the age of enlightenment, mused upon his goals and set at the same time poetry, music and art as the ultimate goal.

“The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

His dream was of  American Independence, and in his world war was a justified to enable freedom, the freedom to create. Did we win that war? Or did we go past his ultimate goal and spread our wings only to find them pinned into a specimen box? Our installation inserted the visitor into a world where the game, the space where the mind could relax and invent was the reality, but the room where the game was controlled was fake, flat and uninteresting – the world flying past its windows.

“Butterfly Searchin for a Relax” was our first installation in which we made the audience an intrinsic part of the exhibition room. Without the audience the installation simply didn’t work – so for us this was an experiment just as much as a work of art. We had observed various attempts at getting the audience to participate in art exhibitions and one of the things we discussed was the necessity for the audience to have some anonymity. The entrance to the control room was hidden from view at the far end of the exhibition space, and most visitors became entangled in the moving tanks long before before they found the door. The visitors that did make it into the control room, quickly understood how to control the tanks.

Having experienced what it was like to be in the room with the tanks they built on their experience, and slowly the audience participation evolved: each new visitor adapting the behaviour of the previous visitor and refining the possibilities the tanks, exhibition space and the anonymity gave.

The game became more and more brutal and after a week we started getting the first injuries. The collectively mind of the generations of operators had now mapped the possibilities of the exhibition space and discovered where to hide, where to set up ambush points and how to lure unsuspecting visitors into a trap. Two of the last tank operators were especially brutal. One tank would entice an unsuspecting visitor into a trap, the other tank ramming its weight of seven kilos aluminum, steel and batteries into the achilles heel of the now victim at full speed.

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