Charles Pétillon fills Covent Garden market with 100,000 white balloons

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French artist Charles Pétillon has installed a giant cloud of balloons under the roof of the 19th-century Market Building in London's Covent Garden (+ movie).

Charles Petillon Heartbeat balloons installation at Covent Garden market London

Unveiled today, the Heartbeat installation is the latest in Pétillon's Invasions series – in which he uses white balloons to fill spaces – but is his first live project in the UK.

Charles Petillon Heartbeat balloons installation at Covent Garden market London
Photograph by Charles Pétillon

The inflatable sculpture incorporates 100,000 white balloons that form a meandering trail through the south hall of the Grade II-listed building. A piece of the historic market appeared to have broken free of its stone base in a previous installation by London designer Alex Chinneck.

Charles Petillon Heartbeat balloons installation at Covent Garden market London
Photograph by Charles Pétillon

"The balloon invasions I create are metaphors," said Pétillon. "Their goal is to change the way in which we see the things we live alongside each day without really noticing them."

Charles Petillon Heartbeat balloons installation at Covent Garden market London

"With Heartbeat I want to represent the Market Building as the beating heart of this area – connecting its past with the present day to allow visitors to re-examine its role at the heart of London's life," he added.



Measuring 54 metres in length and 12 metres in width, the installation is held in place below the market's pitched roof and supporting arches, and above its walkways and sunken arcades. A gently pulsating white light, designed to mimic a heartbeat, illuminates the structure from within.

Charles Petillon Heartbeat balloons installation at Covent Garden market London

"Each balloon has its own dimensions and yet is part of a giant but fragile composition that creates a floating cloud above the energy of the market below," Pétillon said.

"This fragility is represented by contrasting materials and also the whiteness of the balloons that move and pulse appearing as alive and vibrant as the area itself."

Charles Petillon Heartbeat balloons installation at Covent Garden market London

A series of wires are used to suspend the cluster from the building's metalwork, so none of the balloons touch any of the surfaces.

Charles Petillon Heartbeat balloons installation at Covent Garden market London

Heartbeat will remain in place until 27 September 2015. Other installations in London at present include Frida Escobedo's Aztec-inspired platforms at the V&A museum and a pair of spiral slides attached to the Hayward gallery as part of an exhibition of work by Carsten Höller.

  • spadestick

    Can we upload to it?

  • allison

    Temporary installations full of future landfill. When will we opt for sustainable products instead of mesmerizing a child-mind?

    • Everything is future landfill. You and I are future landfill.

      • allison

        So cremation and biodegradable are terms you are unfamiliar with?

  • Sarabeth

    These white balloons are a beautiful sight – but what happens to all that white plastic when the display is taken down? I doubt they are re-usable. Isn’t this of concern to anyone?

    • allison

      See above. That was my point.

      • Sarabeth

        I did realise that. I was chiming in!

    • James Calbraith

      Eh, it’s about five minutes worth of supermarket plastic bags used in UK – and I bet it will be disposed of in a more controlled manner than those.

      • Sarabeth

        Fair enough, but is it a good message to be sending far and wide in a time of pollution that’s so extreme that it’s threatening the planet? That it’s okay to use plastic in a frivolous manner? In that light this frothy display seems tasteless and irresponsible.

        • allison

          Well said! Thanks Sarabeth, it’s good to know that other people are in agreement. Now for more designs that help the world, even in small ways. Viva mother earth!

  • Threefold

    Video of the process is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2OCAqJkjPHs

  • Arjay Cee

    “With Heartbeat I want to represent the Market Building as the beating heart of this area – connecting its past with the present day to allow visitors to re-examine its role at the heart of London’s life,” he added.

    Possibly the most annoying thing ever said about a pile of balloons let loose in a retail space.

  • Ralph90

    Isn’t a room filled with balloons just a party?