Noemi Lakmaier

The disabled artist talks about her exciting installation at the Belfast Festival

Disabled artist Noemi Lakmaier's interactive installation at the Belfast Festival at Queen's encases people in 80cm diameter balls based on the American toy marketed with the phrase ‘weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down’.

‘Like the toys, the human sized ‘weebles’ are weighted at the bottom, which makes it impossible for them to fall over,’ Lakmaier explains. ‘The objects are physically restricting to the people inside them as only their heads and arms stick out. They rock and wobble with every movement and therefore create a sense of instability and loss of control.’

Last time Lakmaier brought the ‘weebles’ to Belfast it was part of an installation that involved four couples trying to kiss under a street light. It was a commonplace moment that, being confined in the spherical, turned into more of a chore. This time Lakmaier has something even more demanding in mind.

‘The piece that is part of the Queen’s Festival is a dinner party. Communal dining and therefore the dinner party is one of the oldest types of social interactions humans engage in. This is why I am particularly interested in it.

'It will have everything one would expect of a high end dinner: beautiful, delicious, chef-prepared food, great wine and elegant, professional waiters serving, as well as eight guests and interesting conversation. For the duration of the dinner the guest will be seated in ‘weebles’. Taking part in a dinner party while being inside one of these objects requires participants to rethink the normally everyday tasks of eating, drinking and social engagement with other diners.’

The concept behind the work is the reframing of the ordinary, taking everyday objects or events and adding an element of the absurd to make them ‘other’. It aims to encourage participants and audiences to rethink the ordinary. The last time Lakmaier used this installation was in The LAB exhibition space in Dublin with eight volunteer diners.

‘It drew a lot of attention from invited audiences as well as random passersby’s,' she recalls. 'A very interesting dynamic developed between the participants in the piece and people watching it. The two started sparking off each other, which I believe influenced and changed the event.’

The weeble dinner part in Belfast will take place at Victoria Square Shopping Centre. It is visually similar to the Dublin installation, but Lakmaier explains that it is conceptually unique. For her the art comes not from the sculptural installation itself but from the emotions it elicits and the interactions that take place between the weebles and their environment.

‘In the Northern Irish context the piece becomes a ‘Shared Futures’ dinner, where participants from very diverse backgrounds of NI society - ranging from politicians to local celebrities, immigrants to ordinary citizens from both sides of the sectarian divide - are invited to come together, based on an equality of discomfort provided by the ‘weebles’, and share a meal together. Who would you like to see in a ‘weeble’?’

Lakmaier has spent some time in a weeble. For her 2007 installation Exercise in Losing Control Lakmaier encased herself in a smooth yellow ball with only the top of her head and tips of her fingers visible.

Interaction between installation and environment is an essential component for Lakmaier’s art. The yellow ball looks bizarrely small, too small surely to fit Lakmaier’s body into it, and elicits conflicting impulses. Viewed as an object Lakmaier-as-ball is cute enough to be a new, big-eyed soft toy from Japan; empathized with as a person and the performance is one of horrifying claustrophobia and inability.

‘My work aims to emphasize and exaggerate the relationship between object, individual and space,’ Lakmaier explains. ‘Through the use of everyday materials and the human body, I construct temporary living installations - alternative physical realities - exploring notions of the ‘other’ ranging from the physical to the philosophical, the personal to the political. I don’t feel that the term ‘performance’ in relation to my work is entirely accurate. I would rather describe it as ‘living installation’ or ‘live art’.'

Lakmaier acknowledges the absurd elements in her art, indeed she embraces them with a distinct, quirky humour all her own. Absurdity is, for her, part of life and therefore part of art. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t think it has something to important to say. Asked about whether art can influence society she responds firmly: ‘Absolutely! Not only as social commentary – I believe the arts is a vital and indispensible part of any positive and functioning society.’

Noemi Lakmaier's dinner party will be at Victoria Square on October 27 as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's. Check out Culture Live! listings for information on all events at the Festival.