By Sophie Carter
For some Bailee Lobb’s artwork becomes a place of rest. For others it’s an incentive to move or perform. Some only stay a minute. Some never want to leave.
Lobb is a queer artist with autism, who explores her disability through performance, textiles, and most recently interactive inflatable installations.
“Living with a highly sensitised central nervous system is like living with the volume turned up on all your sensory inputs,” Lobb explains. Visitors can step inside these soft pods; their monochromatic, uncomplicated interiors soothe the nervous system and help to turn down the volume of the world.
The idea dawned on Lobb as a way to reduce her insomnia. The Whanganui-born artist was living in Australia when she discovered the morning light helped her to sleep. “In Sydney golden hour can be quite extreme – everything turns yellow. I wanted to create a space that could replicate this colour bathing.” Her idea proved to be very affective. “In the gallery guideline I’ve noted that all of the works have to be physically checked at the end of the day because people fall asleep in them.”
To construct these spaces Lobb first makes a 3D model to form a pattern. This is then translated to hand-dyed nylon, cut, and sewn together. Currently she’s preparing new work for the Nelson Arts Festival in October, for which she’ll be using a more traditional, mathematical drafting technique.
These new works will be shown alongside the inflatables from her previous exhibition In Bathing, Bask in Te Atamira in Queenstown. Lobb is also working on a performance piece exploring her challenges with sleep.
With such an understanding of structural design, it’s no surprise that Lobb was originally studying for a degree in architecture. She left in her second year, and went on to study Art and Design at the University of New South Wales, graduating in 2018.
At around seven metres long, Big Blue is Lobb’s largest inflatable to date and was roomy enough for a class of nine to do yoga inside. Unlike her other inflatables, Big Blue has H-shaped doors, which allow it to be fully accessible from each end, while having enough airflow to stay inflated with plenty of time for people to enter.
Smaller works like Jellybean, however, will start to flop as soon as the doors are unzipped. “That feeling of ‘I’ve got to get in now’ is part of the experience for me. Often, when I really need a space like this that’s exactly how I’m feeling.”
Lobb says she was “raised to be an artist,” brought up by a creative family. Her mother was an interior designer who taught Lobb to sew at just four-years-old. “I grew up in a really colourful house. It was when I started flatting and lived in a series of beige houses that I realised how important colourful spaces were to me.”
It’s often the colour of the inflatable that dictates visitors’ responses to the works, affecting how they feel when inside. “The hot pink inflatable makes me feel really agitated, but it’s some peoples favourite.”
One of most the extreme comments came from a person who suffered with severe claustrophobia. They told Lobb that within the inflatables they felt they could breathe for the first time.
“I was stunned, absolutely stunned. It’s still one of my favourite responses.”
Bailee Lobb's exhibition Sensory Self Portraits will show at Refinery ArtSpace, Nelson Art Festival between 19 - 29 October.
First published in Art Zone #95