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Inflate a Giant Viking Head in Britain With Your Keyboard

The Techno Viking meme gets a new breath of life in a Manchester arts festival.

What is it with Wafaa Bilal and messed-up heads? First the guy implants a webcam in the back of his cranium – a surgical modification his body rejected – and now he's put a godawfully huge head in the middle of a Manchester park.

The installation, titled "Meme Junkyard," will be instantly recognizable to anyone who spends way too much time online. The face is that of the legendary Techno Viking, a ferocious street dancer featured in a 2007 YouTube video that went viral (see below). True to the interactive nature of Bilal's works (he once had Internet users shoot him in real life with paintballs), there's a new-media angle to this curiosity as well. If enough people are tweeting with the hashtag #technoviking, the sculpture slowly inflates into an imposing, full-figured Norse noggin. If the tweets die off, the face will collapse into a crumpled pile.

Bilal installed "Meme Junkyard" in All Saints Square as part of this past weekend's Abandon Normal Devices, a festival devoted to the arts and digital culture. What are viewers supposed to take away from the massive head of Bilal, who Art Info has dubbed "Professor Camerahead"? According to the fest's organizers:

Recreating Technoviking as an airfilled avatar that will inflate and deflate according to the buzz it generates on Twitter, Meme Junkyard asks us to consider what it means to ‘go viral’ and, be it a cat playing piano or David After Dentist, what becomes of an overnight YouTube sensation months or years after the fact.

If you're wondering how on earth this Techno Viking fellow deserves such high-art attention, what's left of Encyclopedia Dramatica has a very NSFW explanation of his awesomeness. Here's part of it:

His story begins in old Viking times. Techno Viking was born to rave; however, there was no techno music back then, so he was preserved in ice and mead in what is now known as Germany for future generations to bring to life when music worthy of Techno Viking's awesomeness was invented (See also: Ecstasy). Srsly, win is rolling off of this guys fucking face....

It is said that to have the finger of awesomeness pointed at you is to achieve nirvana and great justice will, in fact, be obtained.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.