The famous opening shot of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil shows a bomb being placed in a car trunk, and then cranes upward over the driver and his passenger for an agonizing three minutes of tension as they go along their merry, oblivious way. But does this shot have the same impact on the audiences of today as it did in 1958? DWFE, an “experimental design syndicate,” thinks not–and has created an installation called “Green=Boom,” which puts spectators in a situation they only see in movies: To defuse a bomb, do you cut the green wire, or the red?
Of course, it’s not an actual bomb: It’s a timer wired to a balloon, which “explodes” when the wrong wire is cut (or the timer runs out). It’s an ingenious translation of something harmless into bona fide, nail-biting tension–which movies and TV no longer effectively do, according to designers Jimmy Loizeau, Matt Ward, Laura Potter, and Nic Hughes. “Over recent decades, entertainment and play have become decoupled from actual jeopardy, whilst simultaneously our consumption of risk via news and documentary footage has become more realistic,” they write. “Exposure to film, television and photography–whether the content is factual or fictional–does not increase our ability to understand or empathise with people in extreme situations, particularly those faced with violence and danger. Screen-based consumption is reductive: The real and the non-real are experienced in the same way, via the same technological interface.”
Not so with these “recreational bombs”: You’re right there with the two wires, sweating bullets while a camera films you. The resulting footage becomes “a filmic souvenir of [your] moment of truth,” the designers write–a piece of filmed entertainment that actually connects to a vivid, personal moment of emotional experience. They elaborate: “The experience is also conceived as a boundary test in taste: At what point does the consumption of violence as entertainment become unacceptable? Can we ‘act out’ extreme forms of jeopardy whilst still remaining detached from the reality of the actions we are simulating? At the heart of the project lies an ethical questioning of the contemporary consumption, glorification and fetishisation of modern warfare, weaponry, violence and crime.”
That’s pretty high-minded stuff; the actual experience of Green=Boom looks more like something you’d want to book for your next birthday party. Which is not a knock against the design, by the way–it certainly is thought provoking, but the concept is essentially a playful, puckish one rather than something that deserves to be saddled with leaden art-school non-descriptions like “entertainment topology” (which the designers, regrettably, use). Seeing the look of unalloyed relief–or flash of fear–on your friend’s face as they cut that wire would be worth the price of admission and then some.
[Top image: The movie poster from Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker]