By the Num­bers


Azure - - CONTENTS - WORDS _David Sokol

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.

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