Balloon walls get off the ground

You wouldn't normally expect to find an artist working on a snow-covered platform high up in the Swiss Alps. But Philipp Krebs is not your normal sort of artist, and certainly not one who spends his time in a traditional gallery or a stuffy studio.

This content was published on January 31, 2000 - 14:53

Krebs is a balloon artist, and his latest project involves creating massive "Flying Walls" out of huge helium-filled balloons. He has spent the past week at the Chateau-d'Oex international hot-air balloon festival, speaking to experts about the technical requirements of his plans.

His largest prototype consists of nine balloons, but he intends eventually to produce walls of up to 20 metres high, which he then hopes to display in city centres around the world.

It certainly sounds impressive, but is it art?

"There is no message in my work," he admits. "It's not something against something. It's just a message of joy - surprising joy. My main thing with this project is to do something unexpected. Everyone knows balloons, but not on this scale. So I just like to surprise them - do something spectacular in an environment which they know."

Using cities as the setting for his work is one Krebs' trademarks, as his interest in using wind. His last creation in Switzerland was his Air Wave project in the capital, Berne, where he exploited the power of wind to the full.

Few who saw it in 1990 will be able to forget the sight of Berne's Kirchenfeld bridge, strung with a wave of long orange banners. The wave was designed to flow against the arches of the bridge, using the wind to generate movement.

"Everything I do appears to be two dimensional at first," he says. "It looks two dimensional, but the wind then plays a big part. It makes my work worth it. I can play with the wind, but I can't control it. Every single day or hour has a different look, and that is something I really like."

The wind may be beyond Krebs' control, but he is very much at home using bridges and public buildings as the foundations of his work. He used to be an architect, and the technical know-how he learnt in that profession plays a major part in his work today.

"Everybody always says to me that they could do what I do," he says with a smile. "But you have to have a great knowledge of technical things, especially engineering. As an architect I was always ambitious. I knew that I could be pretty good, but I wanted to be the best of the best. With my art, I think I can become the best of the best in the near future."

Once he's completed his experiments in Chateau-d'Oex, Krebs is hoping to have the "Flying Walls" project ready for public view within the year. The Swiss national parliament in Berne is being considered as a possible setting - perhaps an appropriate choice for such a colourful display of hot air!

By Mark Ledsom

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