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Charles Pétillon fills London’s Covent Garden with 100,000 balloons

Paul Grover

French artist Charles Pétillon has presented his first public art installation – and his first ever live work outside of France – in Covent Garden last month when 100,000 giant white balloons fill the grand interior of the 19th Century Market Building.

Uniting the world of art with world-class architecture, the installation is being unveiled ahead of the London Design Festival and was inspired by Covent Garden’s heritage as London’s first public square and the West End’s reputation as the beating heart of the city.


Weaving its way through the South Hall of the Grade II listed Market Building, Heartbeat stretches 54 metres in length and 12 metres in width, and incorporates gentle pulsating white light to symbolise the beating of a heart and reflect the history, energy and dynamism of the district.


“The balloon invasions I create are metaphors. Their goal is to change the way in which we see the things we live alongside each day without really noticing them. With Heartbeat I wanted 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.” said Charles Pétillon

“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. 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.”


A pop-up gallery on the Piazza at Unit 5, Royal Opera House Arcade, will showcase Charles’ series of Invasions photographs as well as some of his other work. The complex yet fragile composition represents Charles’ largest and most ambitious project to date and will run until September 27, 2015.

Charles is best known for Invasions, a series of arresting sculptures which challenge perceptions of everyday scenes by filling the likes of derelict houses, basketball courts and even cars with hundreds of white balloons.


Heartbeat forms part of Covent Garden’s ongoing cultural programme which transforms the district into an ever-changing, open-air art gallery.  Last November, British artist Alex Chinneck added a touch of magic to the Piazza when a section of the 185-year old Market Building appeared to break free from its foundations and float into the air.

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all images © Paul Grover