Charles Petillon fills London’s Covent Garden with 100,000 illuminated white balloons.

An Illuminated Cloud of 100,000 White Balloons Has Invaded London’s Covent Garden

An Illuminated Cloud of 100,000 White Balloons Has Invaded London’s Covent Garden

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
Sept. 10 2015 1:55 PM

An Illuminated Cloud of 100,000 White Balloons Has Invaded London’s Covent Garden

Charles Pétillon,Heartbeat,Covent Garden
Visitors to London's Covent Garden ponder “Heartbeat,” a temporary installation of 100,000 white balloons by French photographer Charles Pétillon, when it was installed in the building on Aug. 27, 2015.

Photo by Paul Grover. Courtesy of Edelman UK.

London’s Covent Garden, the historic former fruit and vegetable market turned shopping mall and tourist magnet, commissioned French photographer Charles Pétillon to fill the interior of its 19th-century building with 100,000 illuminated white balloons in a pop-up installation on view until the end of September.

Charles Pétillon,Heartbeat,Covent Garden
The balloons flirt with the 19th-century market building’s heavenly glass and ironwork domed ceiling.

Photo by Paul Grover. Courtesy of Edelman UK.

Charles Pétillon,Heartbeat,Covent Garden
A view of the balloon invasion from the upper level of the market hall.

Photo by Paul Grover. Courtesy of Edelman UK.

Pétillon is best known for his photographic series “Invasions,” in which he installed organic-looking clusters of white balloons in French swimming pools, forests, houses, and basketball courts. In a statement about his work, Pétillon says that his balloon invasions are metaphors designed to change people’s perceptions of space and get them to reconsider parts of familiar landscapes they might otherwise take for granted.

INVASIONS
Above and below, images from Pétillon’s “Invasions” series.

Photo by Charles Pétillon

MUTATIONS 2

Photo by Charles Pétillon

SOUVENIRS DE FAMILLE

Photo by Charles Pétillon

PLAYSTATION 2

Photo by Charles Pétillon

The Covent Garden installation, titled “Heartbeat,” is his largest work to date, at 177 feet long and nearly 40 feet wide. It took a team of 25 a week to inflate each of the varyingly sized balloons, which look as light as clouds but weigh a total of more than 700 pounds. Pétillon told the Guardian that the installation is proof that his photo series isn’t faked or Photoshopped.  

Charles Pétillon,Heartbeat,Covent Garden
French photographer Charles Pétillon posing in front of his balloon invasion at London’s Covent Garden.

Photo by Paul Grover. Courtesy of Edelman UK.

Charles Pétillon,Heartbeat,Covent Garden
Naturally, the 100,000-balloon installation has become a backdrop for selfies.

Photo by Paul Grover. Courtesy of Edelman UK.

This is Pétillon’s first public installation, but it isn’t the first time that white balloons have been used to inject fresh meaning into an iconic slice of the built environment. Last year, Berlin marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall by reconstructing it symbolically with rows of LED-lit white balloons.

Listen to the photographer talk about the balloon invasion and see a brief time lapse of the four-day installation in the short video below:

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.