“I want to change people’s point of view, their perspective of a place they see every day and never really look at. A swimming pool, a field: if I suddenly put something strange in it like these balloons you will see it differently. I don’t want my works to be seen just as decoration, there is always something they are trying to draw out or question.”
– Charles Pétillon, The Guardian
First stop in Covent Garden, is always The Royal Opera House. I’m in there for a while, sometimes finding myself upstairs walking amongst arresting photographs; other times, I’m wandering amongst the costumes. Then, I head towards the smell of freshly roasted coffee, today however, forgetting entirely, that Charles Pétillon has taken a proportion of the area for himself.
Until September 27, a pop up gallery is in place showcasing some Pétillon’s most notable works. It’s a grand space with no frivolities. Nothing other than some stools and a small TV screen in the conrner. It’s certainly a blank canvas for these large-scale photographs, or rather, large scale ideas. A burnt-out car, a playground apparatus and an alleyway, are but three locations filled with white balloons, shot, blow up and scattered for the pleasures of the eye. Upon the acid-white walls, an array of invasions are displayed. Mutation 2, a personal favourite, alongside CO2 and Invasion.
To a novice, Pétillon’s work, and naming of them, is nothing but latex, wit and fanciful placings, but Pétillon is a photographer of brilliance and variety. Louis Vuitton, Armani, KaDeWe and Cartier, are but a selection of brands that have had he eye of Pétillon transform, manipulate, envisage and conceptualise.
Details and simplicity play hand in hand. Whilst an almost desolate location is found and filled with simple balloons, the detail of his placings, stylistic choices, both photographically and of course, the amount of balloons he chooses at any one time, come together in carefully crafted formations. Vogue Russia may be rooted in his foundations of photography, but it is his own creativity that has set him aside, allowing people the joys of his photography.
Standing in front of every image, takes longer than what you would expect. It is easy to become mesmerised by one of birthday-party’s most necessary elements, and yet, here one can stand and take in every aspect contrast. The concepts are attainable, fully realised, delectable even. A piece entitled Play Station 2, is attributed with the text on Pétillon’s website:
“Spaces for play are discussed in Playstation, which alludes to the development of public play areas. From slides to football pitches or the bedroom symbolised by the games console, the occasionally cathartic use and obsessive and sometimes harmful hold of these games on humans is questioned here.”
You leave the gallery space, alms forgetting that the infamous Covent Garden Plaza is really the place in which Pétillon’s work makes a beautiful, floating stand. As you enter, you are suddenly drawn by a floating mass. But the floating mass is delicate and severe at the same time. The buskers play beneath the balloons, and your time spent there seems ever-more enthralling. People look up in awe. Children point. Grown men take photos whist even shopkeepers and waters take a glance every once in a while. The word magical seems too childish, whilst innovative seems too overused a term. Ornate, curious, extravagant, alluring; these are the words we can use.
In contrast to the architecture of the space, which is a grade II listed building, these more modernistic elements seem more at home than the bothersome pigeons do. And at certain angles and in the changing light, there is something lively and encapsulating in the formation of balloons. The architecture changes. The landscape, the people, and the way they interact with the space changes. And it’s effortlessly beautiful.
“These balloon invasions 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, for Dezeen
In recent years, London has seen great outdoor installations, including those held at the infamous Serpentine Pavilion, but this year, Pétillon’s exhibition is one not to be missed.