Interviews

“Our Main Motivation Has Always Been to Troll Donald Trump,” Says Trump Baby Balloon Designer

We spoke with designer Matt Bonner who “birthed” Trump Baby about his grand political aspirations for his newborn, gassy blimp.

Design presentation of Trump Baby (©Matt Bonner and used with permission)

Trump Baby is going worldwide. The British activists who “birthed’ the blimpy baby have received a flood of requests for cameos and appearances at protests. Large cultural institutions, like the British Museum and the Museum of London, have also reportedly expressed an interest in exhibiting the orange monster.

Hyperallergic spoke with one of Trump Baby’s “babysitters,” Matt Bonner, who designed the inflatable and actually has a long history of working with political campaigns motivated by social justice and environmental reform.

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The Trump Baby sitting team dressed in red boiler suits deflate the six meter high inflatable Trump Baby balloon for the demo on the Meadows in Edinburgh, July 14, 2018. (photo by Andy Aitchison / Trump Baby Sitters)

Hyperallergic: I’m sure this must be an extremely busy time for you following the protests in London and Edinburgh. What’s the response been like to Trump Baby?

Matt Bonner: We have been absolutely overwhelmed, inundated with the positive support we have received. There have been requests of all kinds — people are really looking forward to Trump Baby continuing. We’re actually quite a small group of friends who have their own day jobs. The main crew is about eight people, but we have other friends who have helped out. We have had to learn a few new skills quickly, particularly how to handle inflatables. Right now, though, we are completely overrun; we’ve kind of regrouped to plan what’s next. Nothing is quite concrete, but everyone is obviously very excited.

H: And what’s your background? How did you prepare to create a giant inflatable Trump?

MB: Graphic design is my background. I work entirely for campaigning organizations, third sector and nonprofit entities that are motivated by social and environmental justice issues. I don’t work with for-profit companies [because] I’m very interested in how art and politics interact, particularly on the streets. I’ve spent my entire life working on projects aimed at making the world a better place, but this is the first time I’ve designed an inflatable.

Initial sketches of the Trump Baby (©Leo Murray)

H: Can you walk me through how exactly you designed the inflatable.

MB: We started by sketching out this idea. [Leo Murray and I] never had conceived of an inflatable before, so originally it was just two-dimensional sketches on a page. I added those sketches to Adobe Illustrator to work up a three-dimensional concept. Trying to conceive of it as an inflatable, I just assumed we needed it to be a simplistic design. I basically mocked up a front, back, and side of the design. Once we were happy with the details, we approached an inflatables company that manufactures these things. They rendered a three-dimensional image of how it would look. After some tweaks, we hit prent and went ahead. We had originally depicted Trump Baby as crying, but at the last minute we decided that it was a little too sympathetic, so we changed it to the constipated grimace he now has. Quite last minute, I also added the mobile phone which seems to really resonate with people.

H: And I noticed that the Trump Baby also has a couple little chest hairs.

MB: [Laughs.] Yes! Obviously, I had to use my imagination when thinking about what Donald Trump’s chest looks like, but hopefully I’ve done it justice. In many ways, we’ve really created a monster. It’s big, beautiful, and brilliant, but at the same time it is quite disgusting.

I will say that none of us are interested in body shaming, but we did think it was important to speak to Trump in a language that he understands. After all, he has famously mocked, ridiculed, and disrespected all kinds of people: the disabled, the poor, the #MeToo campaign, the list is endless. In many ways, we’ve really created a monster.

H: And was I correct in seeing that Trump Baby had a smaller twin at the Edinburgh protests?

MB: That was us as well. After the London protest, we jumped on a night train and connected with protesters in Edinburgh. We got Trump Baby back in the air as the march arrived to the park. There are actually two Trump Babies, though. One is the main balloon you’ve seen flying over London. The other is called Baby Trump Baby, who is about half the size. (The original is about six meters high.) The idea was to have something closer to the ground so that people could get close and take pictures. We actually did have him on the streets of London, but Edinburgh was the first time we’ve had both babies in the air at the same time.

H: What’s the response been from cultural institutions? I hear that a few museums are vying to exhibit Trump Baby, just days after the balloon’s London debut.

MB: We have opened a dialogue and are in discussions about next steps. [At the British Museum] it’s for a specific exhibition curated by the editor of Private Eye, Ian Hislop, called I Object, which is an exhibition about disobedient objects. We are interested, but haven’t made a decision yet. Our main motivation has always been to troll Donald Trump, so if there is a situation where we can get Trump Baby somewhere in the world where the president is visting, then we want to do that. Trump Baby still has some life in him. He’s not quite ready to end up in a museum yet, but equally if we can make it work with the museum then we are open to it.

H: What are the logistics with shipping Trump Baby around the world? I see he might be coming to New Jersey. Do you send people the designs? How are you, strangely enough, protecting Trump Baby?

MB: We are certainly not in the business of mass-marketing Trump Baby merchandise. That’s not something that motivates us. We are keen to protect the Trump Baby’s “good name.” Again, these are all discussions that are team is having at the moment.

H: Is there anything you want people to know about Trump Baby that is maybe misunderstood presently in the media?

MB: Our motivation has always been to mock Donald Trump because we have seen world leaders try to negotiate with him and fail. Trump does not really respond to the kind of moral outrage that comes from his policies and behavior, but he does have an ego. So we’ve really managed to succeed in playing his own game by speaking directly to him in a language he understands.

H: And he even refenced the balloon in a statement, saying it made him feel “unwelcome.”

MB: Yeah, so it clearly worked. Trump Baby played its part in the demonstrations against the president. London gave Trump the biggest demonstration outside the US since his inauguration, so we are very proud of it. If Trump Baby deterred him from coming to London, that was enough. But the fact that it has gone global is great. But we also have a much more serious political motivation. That is to say that we don’t approve of his political agenda or ideology that many are calling Trumpism. That is not representative of the kind of politics that people in the UK, and seemingly the rest of the world, believe. Quite happily, I think he’s received the message.

This interview had been edited and condensed for clarity.

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