Artist Jason Hackenwerth is known for his ambiguous, looming installations made from… latex balloons.
His work has been blown up, seen, and methodically popped internationally for the last 20 years, but he’s nowhere near done.
For one night [Saturday, Jan. 15] Hackenwerth’s latest work, Flesh Fatale, inflate at St. Petersburg’s Coastal Creative gallery.
A two-room exhibit, the installation offers a giant, rubbery metaphor for human emotion and will feature a drink-friendly dance party.
Before moving to St. Petersburg in 2013, Hackenwerth spent 10 years in New York City. He spent his early years as a New Yorker, riding the subway, something he describes as “a bummer.”
He began making balloon installations underground, thrilling metro riders with his version of public art.
“I always thought art should surprise people, stop them in their tracks,” Hackenwerth said. “Even as a kid I wanted to be an artist because I thought art was the way to change the world, and it certainly saved my life.”
It wasn’t long before Hackenwerth started booking sculptures internationally.
“The whole part of making art is to express what cannot be spoken, and so making a dragon out of balloons, at face value it’s just a dragon,” Hackenwerth said. “If you can make something more ambiguous so that it transcends it’s initial impulse … it can become everyone’s inner demon.”
He’s exhibited his work at the Hong Kong Art Fair, Miami’s Art Basel, in The National Museum of Scotland, and in a rolling list of national and international spaces.
As many places as the artist’s created, his installations only lasts as long as the plastic – or the show.
When the event ends, Hackenwerth literally pops each individual inflatable – without hesitation.
“Destroying the piece is similar to what the monks do with the sand mandalas,” he said. “It’s a metaphor for our existence. Everything is temporary.”
There’s no additional materials, despite each sculpture appearing to the attached to swirling infrastructure.
“That’s because I’m a bada** engineer,” he jokes.
At the Coastal Creative exhibit, Hackenwerth’s Flesh Fatale features two installations in dual rooms. The first symbolizes human pride; the second, overindulgence.
“The Wreck of the Hesperus” by Henry Wadsworth inspired the first. The poem tells a tale of a sea captain who leads 300 people to their death after refusing to listen to the signs of an incoming storm.
“It’s about pride, and ego, and a reminder not to be arrogant,” Hackenwerth said.
The second installation is the flip side of the first. It’s a biological mass made from balloons, and the site of a literal dance party.
“I feel like these are the two ills of our society and they are given to people completely free to overdose on,” Hackenwerth said. “I wanted to make an installation that would offer all of these fantastic sensory experiences.”
But, Hackenwerth said, people don’t need to know that.
His particular inspirations don’t have to directly translate. To the unsuspecting viewer, the two rooms filled with massive balloon sculptures push for a dance party, complete with raised platforms and balloon-clad models.
Get tickets for Flesh Fatale at coastalcreativetv.com.