Interview with Jason Hackenwerth, balloon artist

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The TED Blog sat down with Jason Hackenwerth, Palm Springs’ balloon artist-in-residence to talk about the challenge of being an artist.


What’s your biggest challenge, as an artist?

Getting your work recognized is the biggest and hardest part. I think it requires a certain kind of venue or a certain kind of persistence, and making the work even though it may not be seen or it may be rejected or there may be obstacles to getting it out there. And then once you are getting it out there, or are in the process of trying to do that, how do you pay for your living, how do you pay for the materials in order to get it out there if no one’s paying you to do that. So in order to have money to make the work, if the work isn’t paying for itself, first you have to find a creative way to pay yourself or earn money so you can make this work.

Why balloons?

I was going to art school. My mother taught me how to twist balloons for street performance. Originally she made me a clown outfit and I made poodles and swords on the street for kids. And I started doing that in ’89.

I was doing that for years and years. Even just this past January, you know, from time to time I had to go out to Times Square and twist balloons in freezing weather for grocery money. There have been years when I’ve made great money with installations around the world. A lot of times when I’m doing events that are fantastic, I’m not necessarily getting paid. But the exposure is good.

So the balloons are something that I’d been using for years, and I had very intimate knowledge of this material, but with a background in fine art and a masters in painting and a curious mind, using these balloons with a lot of down time, I started using them in the subway in New York City. I was amazed at peoples’ response to them. I realized that I was on to something, and a way of making people smile and feel so happy.

There’s something magical, but also impermanent, about balloons.

They’re temporary. They are. Which is nice in a way because it creates this metaphor, and an urgency, and a rarity, which I think is just like you and just like me. If someone wants to know you they’d better get over here and know you. Once they’re gone, there might be a snapshot or something, but we have a limited time.

Photo: TED / Michael Brands