By the Numbers
KNOWN FOR HIS BALLOON PHOTOGRAPHY, ARTIST CHARLES PÉTILLON EXPANDS HIS OEUVRE WITH A PERMANENT INSTALLATION IN BEIJING
Balloon art in Beijing
Charles Pétillon single-handedly elevated balloon art in 2007 with the launch of his photograph series Invasions, which depicts swarms of white balloons hovering in the forest and spilling out of structures. A plaything associated with birthday parties and bouncy dogs had suddenly become a medium for poignancy and even had a whiff of threat. The representations quickly earned the French photographer public art commissions with equally transfixing results.
He suspended 100,000 balloons in London’s Covent Garden Market Building in 2015, formed thousands more into a spiral in a Shanghai gallery the following year and overtook the beaches of Calais and Dover with them shortly after that. Throughout his ascendant career, Pétillon has expressed a wish for people to regard their environments with greater care. So perhaps it was inevitable that the artist’s maiden permanent installation would involve a gut renovation:
Who would be more interested in garnering a double take than a real estate company that had just breathed new life into an overlooked building? Aiming to reinvent a 47,000-square-metre Beijing shopping mall as an urban hive of work and culture, Chinese developer Vanke tapped Pétillon to translate his buoyant oeuvre into a lobby sculpture. The art was realized with help from the Shanghai office of global studio UAP, while Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen handled the broader overhaul.
Completed earlier this year, The Cloud comprises 70 spheres made from aluminum and ranging from one to two metres in diameter. They float between two conference rooms cantilevering into Vanke Times Center’s entrance atrium, perhaps reminding occupants that they’re not as grown-up as their business meetings lead them to think. Nostalgia, joy and even that touch of danger are present in The Cloud. And although it’s the first of Pétillon’s interventions not intended to live on solely as an image, mesmerized onlookers are glad to play documentarian in the artist’s stead. As of publication, #charlespetillon Instagram posts have surpassed the 8,500 mark.