New Installation Invades Central London With 100,000 Balloons

Paris-based artist Charles Pétillon has a reputation for filling abandoned spaces with ethereal balloon formations. For his first installation in a public space and his largest undertaking to date, Heartbeat, he injects London’s lively and historic Covent Garden with 100,000 hovering white balloons.

Heartbeat is the latest in Pétillon’s ongoing Invasion series, which places clusters of white balloons in every day contexts to both delightful and absurd effect. In others in the series, balloons look like cartoon bubble bath spilling out from a suburban house, or pillowy stuffing bursting through the seams of brick walls. In an installation entitled Play Station 2 a balloon formation creeps up a basketball hoop and pours over the rim. One gets the sense that in Pétillon’s version of the apocalypse, a fluffy foam-like substance emerges from the core of the Earth to take over everything in its path.

“The balloon invasions I create are metaphors. Their goal is to change the way in which we see the things we live alongside each day without really noticing them,” Pétillon says in a lofty statement. But this one will be hard to miss: Heartbeat streches nearly 178 feet and 40 feet in width, hovering just above visitors’ heads inside London’s historic Market Building. Gently pulsating lights beneath the balloons are meant to symbolize a heartbeat. Pétillon says he wanted to “represent the Market Building as the beating heart of this area.”

Heartbeat will continue to pump whimsy and delight into London’s oldest public square. The installation is part of London Design Week and will run until September 27. A pop-up gallery in the Piazza at Unit 5, Royal Opera House Arcade will be showing photographs of the other installations in Pétillon’s Invasion series.