March 31, 2011  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Design
The Mind Expander/Flyhead Helmet: A Mind-Blowing Perception Transformer

Zamp Kelp, Ortner, Pinter, Haus-Rucker-Co. Mind Expander/Flyhead Helmet, from the Environment Transformer project. 1968. On view in the exhibition Shaping Modernity: Design 1880–1980

What is it about the Haus-Rucker-Co. Mind Expander/Flyhead Helmet that so pleases everyone, I wonder? People love it. They just do. It is nice looking, with its translucent green double bubble mask, prismatic eyepieces, and groovy power pack, but the cool factor explodes once you realize what it is and what it’s meant to do. When you realize you get to wear it as a mind-expansion device that is meant to completely change your relationship to your environment—your personal, physical, and social world—what’s not to love?

The art, architecture, and design group Haus-Rucker-Co. was formed in 1967 by Laurids Ortner, Günther Zamp Kelp, and Klaus Pinter. They were all about creating and re-creating space and environment in new and unusual ways, rocking the how-we-perceive-space-and-environment boat to the point of capsizing it, if need be.

To be honest the idea of getting to view the world from the specific visual perspective of a fly is only mildly compelling to me. But the idea of altered perception, of getting a heretofore unknown and impermissable point of view, and the mind-expansion factor, with its possibility to change the way I am in the world, totally excites.

Zamp Kelp, Ortner, Pinter, Haus-Rucker-Co. Mind Expander/Flyhead Helmet, from the Environment Transformer project. 1968.

I once had the task of helping some college friends set up a rope course for a group of underserved urban high-school kids. My job was to select three trees equidistant from one another, and to fasten a climbing rope from one to the next, parallel to the ground at hip level. A separate rope was then attached to one of these trees at a higher point. The point was to walk the distance from tree to tree on the connecting rope, using the hanging rope to maintain balance. But the real point, the really important thing, the thing that completely knocked me out, was that by setting this up we’d completely altered our experience of the forest space. Maybe you had to be there, and I wish you had been because it was really mind-blowing to see the forest so transformed. The insertion of a new, defined space changed the relationship of each tree to every other tree—and to every leaf or stick on the ground—or at least changed my experience of it. Now imagine wearing a green translucent double bubble mask with prismatic eyepieces and a groovy power-pack device that could provide that kind of transformation!

Whether or not the Flyhead Helmet is actually able to achieve such a transformation is beside the point. What matters is that it seeks to open the door to altered and expanded perception—and just the seeking causes the door to open.

The Mind Expander/Flyhead Helmet is now on view in the exhibition Shaping Modernity: Design 1880–1980.