Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Art in The Open Charlottetown 2013

10:00 AM Friday morning update facebook status to: I'm scared to start. Then start. begin by cutting 20 strips of electric tape. Peel 20 watch batteries from their packaging, and pull 20 LED bulbs from their bag. Tape the lights to the batteries then stuff each now glowing light into a balloon.  Repeat. Repeat again. Start to panic a little. It's taking  a long time. Too long. Email Matt Bowness. Make sure he is starting.  He has  half the supplies. I'll never make it  on my own. Spend the day repeating the process over and over and over. Receive/send an email every time 100 balloons are stuffed.  Fingers blistering, layers  of band-aids and tape are doing little to help. Email from Matt reads:
 I'm at 250.  I might have to stop.  My skin finally gave way.
I'll try some more though.

At 6:00 we meet carrying our bags of glowing flaccid balloons.  Grab the air compressor and start pumping up some balloons. Matt mans the compressor  and I keep stuffing lights into balloons. I can only do about 5 at a time at this point as my fingers are so raw and sore. I blow a few balloons up in between each set of 5 as I can't do nothing.

We work for a few hours with the deafening sound of the  air compressor filling the room, at 8:30 we part company. I have a huge  knot of worry and trouble in my stomach, but I need to be home for 9, and I can't run a noisy air compressor in the house with three sleeping kids. It's a forced  break. 

I wake in the morning and head straight back to the balloons. Stuff 10 balloons - my fingers are worse this morning but I am determined.  Fill balloons with the air compressor until it empties, then start stitching up the giant bags I'm making while the compressor refills.  I repeat. 10 balloons stuffed, blow up as many as the air compressor allows, stitch on the bags while the compressor recharges. I do it over and over and over again. 

At 1:00 my volunteers arrive. Katie Statts and her son Ben and Andrea Bird. I'm not really sure what to do with them at first. I've been thinking about their arrival all morning, anticipating them, hoping they wouldn't cancel at the last minute, but now that they are here it almost feels like an interruption. I had a system down, I was in a groove. I make them stuff the last 50 balloons. Their fingers are fresh. 

By 2:00 I am grateful for their presence. I can finally think towards the next step. Eventually we have to make the  move to the park. 800 balloons have to packed in to the back of the truck and unloaded in a field in Victoria Park.

My almost breaking point comes at the park when we discover the ground is so incredibly hard that the sticks we are attaching the balloons to bend or snap when you try and drive them in to the soil.  A spike or tool has to be used to dig a hole to then stick the balloon stick in. I accept that we will have to talk each and every participant through the process. I have no choice, no option. We discover that chopsticks work reasonably well at creating a hole. We start spearing the ground and sticking balloons in. Another assembly line forms. Pull a balloon from the giant bag, twist it around the 'cup', stick the cup on the stick, hand it off to be stuck in to the ground. Then the wind blows. Balloons go whirling across the field. They sticks remain firmly planted in the ground. We scramble. Each and every cup must now be taped to the stick. Assembly line adjusts. Sticks get taped. 

Eventually we have a large square perimeter marked out with extra large balloons, and a pathway of the smaller glowing balloons leading to it. We greet people as they make there way across the field. We give them a balloon, explain the chopstick, and invite them to 'plant' their balloon within the square. It's Katie I first hear calling it a balloon garden. And it is. Not everyone wants their  balloon  inside the perimeter. As the day goes on we watch the shape change, the balloons spread out, some groups of all one colour form. Some stand defiantly alone. A few find themselves in nearby trees. I hate the way it looks. 

Full disclosure time: I hate balloons. I resent them. They're ugly. Obnoxious even. I get a little annoyed when people give them to my kids, knowing they'll slowly lose their air as they get kicked around the house for a few days, while I wait for the right moment to make them to disappear.  So why do I keep working with them? They are inexpensive(relatively), they are lightweight, most people have an immediate reaction of joy to them, and I see potential in them. 

More and more people file through. Andrea sits on the ground diligently prepping balloons while Katie and I talk people through the process. The garden grows.  I think people like it. But I'm not sure. I'm almost desperate for the sun to go down. I want everyone to come back after dark. Eventually the sky begins to darken and the glow of the lights starts to become apparent.

The darker it gets the more magical the space becomes. People start spending longer and longer wandering through the garden. The sound of chimes from a nearby exhibit rings dolefully through the air. People are sharing their reactions with me. Some feel like it's a happy joyful spot. Others feel it is a place of meditation or remembrance. I'm happy. I try to send Andrea home. she refuses. There are about 50 more balloons in  the bag and she is staying put until each and everyone finds a home in the ground.  Katie has stayed with me too. I feel it is as much there project now as it is mine. Matt shows up with his camera and gets some after dark shots for me. 

It worked!

My favorite part of the night comes late. After Katie, and Andrea, and Matt have all gone. It is freezing cold. The ground is wet with dew, the flow of people is a trickle now. There are no balloons left to hand out. I simply watch people wander slowly through the field lost in their own thoughts. I watch the balloons bob off through the woods in twos and threes. I wander the perimeter of the field and view it from all angles. Glad to be done. 

Thank you all. 


  1. It was an awesome installation, Kelly. I loved how it constantly changed in so, so many ways - as balloons were placed, as day turned to night. Thanks for all the hard work that began with the thought process.

  2. It was magical. One of the best installations. Thank you and your team for your hard work. It will be remembered for many years to come!