Clusters and clouds of white balloons regularly populate and invade the photographs of French artist Charles Pétillon's work. Last year, the artist and photographer filled the ceiling of a 19th century market building in London's Covent Garden with a cloud of balloons. For his latest exhibition, a solo show at Magda Gallery in Paris, Pétillon is showing new and existing photographs in the Invasions series, as well as an an immersive cloud forest installation within the gallery itself.
“After the installation of Covent Garden in London, I felt it was necessary to bring more interaction between the viewer and the installation,” Pétillon tells The Creators Project. “Visual overflow must be accompanied by proximity to the facility, establishing a physical relationship with the work.”
“This forest is a real environment in which the visitor strolls,” he adds. “This one is no longer facing the work, it is in the work. The light participates in this immersion—it completely envelops the viewer, it amplifies the immersive experience.”
The structure, made of of steel rods, is designed to complement the balloons, not stand in opposition to them. It is not hidden, as in past works with clouds of white balloons. Instead, Pétillon showcases a network of stems that creates what he calls a rhythm of the immersion.
“This forest is a support for the imagination,” he says. “It offers us multiple points of view, physical and mental, emphasizing the relativity of the elements in relation to each other: transparency and opacity, emptiness and fullness.”
The new photographs in this iteration of Invasions explore a range of topics and concepts. In the two photographs in 33 Kilometres—the distance between France and the United Kingdom—Pétillon places his white balloons on the shorelines of each country. He fills a jet bridge, “passerelle” in French, with his white balloons in Passerelle, while balloons overtake shopping carts in T.O.C. (“Trouble Obsessionel Compulsif” or “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder”). And in the photographs Copier Coller and Qui Perd La Memoire Se Ruine, Pétillon explores concepts of copy/paste and memory loss amidst two areas of urban ruin in Shanghai.
Pétillon explains that the balloons project originated while researching his work in applied art. During experiments he began to perceive that the balloons, according to their assemblages, could become a type of raw material. He likens the use of balloons to the paint used by painters.
“Very quickly, the question of the meaning and the use of this raw material was imposed,” says Pétillon. “This is how I began to discuss various topics of society or philosophy. Balloons allow me to materialize ideas or concepts in a rather poetic way.”
“I try to talk about subjects that we do not necessarily pay attention to in our daily lives,” he adds. “It can be architecture, consumer objects, social themes, philosophical themes.”
Though Pétillon’s balloons appear both in nature and around architecture, he does not create distinct approaches or mindsets for these environments. For him, the installation space determines how the balloons will appear, not whether it is in nature or in a building.
“I attach as much importance to the choice of the place as to the choice of the subject, for the place and the subject are one,” he explains. “The space in which I install my balloons becomes constitutive of the work. From then on, the installation maintains, in turn, a dialogue or a balance of power with the place.”
To shoot these photographs Pétillon uses a medium format camera in high definition. For most of the photos he uses available ambient light, but occasionally he has to use a flash in the heart of the installation to, as he says, give the balloons a luminescent appearance.
When it comes to photo editing, Pétillon uses a computer but only for colors, contrasts and to occasionally erase some spots on the balloons. There is no digital trickery to enhance the photos with photo montage or 3D elements. “I do not touch the tricks that participate in the installations, it tends towards a form of poetic realism, things may touch us more so,” says Pétillon.
“Each photograph is made according to a specific subject,” he adds. “I give the keys of understanding with the title that carries each photo. I do not give to the viewer the explanation so that he can remain free in his interpretation.”
Invasions runs at Magda Danysz in Paris until January 14, 2017. Click here to see more of Charles Pétillon’s work.