Recently, I had a friend tell me about his experience in meeting a girl on the beach. They talked a little, and the eventual “what do you do?” occurs.
When she answered “balloon artist,” images of couture or burlesque didn’t come to mind. Nor did trips to fashion festivals in China or appearances on Comedy Central (well, unless on a 3 am rerun of a bad 80s SNL movie). Then he checked her out .
She does this:
Wow. Creepy guys dressed as pirates or clowns huffing and puffing out weenie dogs have been put in their place. Intricately made outfits more suited for avant-garde performance art or Off-Broadway shows were a pleasant surprise. Once made aware of her website, I followed link after link, did search after search, learning balloons are for far more than blowing in some circles. The idea behind it was intriguing. The common object we all see and associate with celebration at its most basic: prom, cubicle decorating for office birthdays, Katie catapulted my notion of what’s possible
And that’s not all. Beyond the fashion element, she adds a little spice to the act from time to time. Click the image to see it live:
So, Katie is impressive; innovative. Made me wonder what else is going on out there in terms of balloons and art, yet in no way in terms of “balloon art.”
Allow me to introduce you to artist Jason Hackenwerth:
Heckenwerth, in my research, is the most widely known artist working with balloons today. A look around his website or, separately, his blog, will show how much creativity and hard work goes into his projects. We are lucky to live in the age of photography, for it would be a shame to know creations such as these must deflate sometime with no way for others to stand in awe of the intricacies involved in their creation. No matter how un-arty, I couldn’t help but ask him if he has assistance with all that balloon blowing. I’d pass out!
“Each project is different, ” he responded. ”Many of my exhibits are in university galleries so I have help of art students to help inflate and construct them. Other times I might have artists volunteer from the communities that I am working in. In most cases I use one or two assistants who know the process well and can help me make huge sculptures with tens of thousands of balloons in a relatively short time.”
He told me the most challenging part of his work is not the assembly of the pieces (or any other stereotypical art response, for that matter). He struggles with “not being associated with poodle twisters and not coming across like a dick when I ask people not to call me a balloon artist.”
It is a conundrum, though. You have an artist (in Heckenwerth’s case, a well-educated one, including an MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design). You have balloons. Yet, he’s right, it’s a disservice to label these creations “balloon art.”
His artist’s statement is articulate, saying “Experiments with latex balloons as an alternative medium has evolved into massive forms akin to painting in the spontaneity with which they manifest yet rooted in the language of sculpture.”
Across the pond, in Germany, an artist collective called Inges Idee (Inga’s Idea) recently debuted a tank made of brightly colored balloons:
Inges Idee is a group of four artists who have been working together to get art in public places around the globe since 1992. Their rainbow balloon tank, also known as The Preparation of the Readiness, took the idea of balloons as art to a whole new level. Bloggers over at The Dirt Floor stated it best, saying, “One can also say that like tanks, balloons pop when provoked, only used during ‘special occasions’ and serve [sic] the purpose of a party (Republican, Democrat, Communist, etc…)…It made me smile and then made me wonder why I am smiling at a tank.”
Tricky indeed. In fact, it all is a bit tricky. Knowing the short life span of a balloon, yet committing the time to create real, tangible art from it-literally breathing your own life into it from your very lungs is inspiring and thought-provoking. Knowing you may get labeled as something other than fine artist because you work in balloons, yet brushing stereotype aside to push the envelope of what’s considered “art” in the 21st century is commendable.