plastic, string, balloons, helium

On January 18th, 1982, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Demonstration Team where in the middle of practice maneuvers at Indian Spring Air Force Field in Nevada. The four plane team, comprising the basic diamond formation, was practicing the Line Abreast Loop, in which the aircrafts climb in a side-by-side formation for several thousand feet, pull over in a backwards loop, and descend at more than 400 mph. The planes were meant to level off at about 100 feet; instead, all four planes struck the ground, killing all four pilots. After a thorough investigation, the Air Force concluded that the cause of the fatal crash was due to a jammed stabilizer on the lead jet.

“ The report said the other pilots, doing what they had been trained to do, did not break formation with their leader.”

 This horrifically tragic event is one of the narrative devices used to exemplify and underscore many of the sociological and behavioral themes that run throughout my thesis exhibition, For a Limited Time Only. The science of attention, behavior modification, and the perpetual drive to survive, control our decision making on a daily basis, but can often create internal conflict.

“As long as we focus on the object we know, we will miss the new one we need to see. The process of unlearning in order to relearn demands a new concept of knowledge not as a thing but as a process, not as a noun but as a verb.”

These themes are illustrated in the piece Diamond Crash This work is the linchpin in the show since it displays the ideas of attention as well as the pack-mentality within our social structure. This is a direct development to promote survival within a group; there is power in numbers, we are a communal animal. However, it can also be disastrous if left unquestioned. Diamond Crash was a definitive example of the human behaviors that play a significant role throughout the exhibition. For example, the Thunderbirds crashed because they had been trained to stay in formation. They were simply reacting to the situation based on what they were taught to do. Their complete and total attention was devoted to basing their maneuvers off the lead plane.

The work consists of four plastic-cast T-38A Talons, the same model plane used by the Thunderbirds. The planes were suspended in mid-flight using blue and white helium filled balloons. Throughout the week-long exhibition the balloons slowly lost their helium, and the planes descend to the ground. In a group mentality, the many act as one, following the direction of a motivator or instigator. When a trend develops the individual stops questioning the action and accepts it as routine. The helium that kept the planes afloat in Diamond Crash is a non-renewable resource that we are expected to run out of by the year 2040. Our usage of natural resources is similar to the follower-the-leader decision making of the Thunderbirds. Once we become accustom to a behavior, we stop questioning it, we continue on the same path because it is what we have been taught to do. By the time we see the ground: it will be too late.

  1. United Press International. “Air Force Finds Mechanical Failure Led to Crash of Flying Team.” New York Times, April 11, 1982, Late City Final Edition, sec. 1, Page 23, Column 1.
  2. Davidson, Cathy N.. Now you see it: how technology and brain science will transform schools and business for the 21st century. London: Penguin, 2012.
  3. Nuttall, William J.. The future of helium as a natural resource / edited by William J. Nuttall, Richard H. Clarke, and Bartek A. Glowacki. New York, NY: Routledge, 2012.

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