June 2, 2009

Fourth-year installs balloon sculpture in BSLC

A veteran balloon sculpting crew, led by fourth-year Willy Chyr, took over the BSLC this weekend, leaving behind a four-story-tall helix of twinkling pink and yellow balloons. The mix of birthday party balloons and LED lights hanging from the building's winding staircase is the second glowing balloon ”balluminescent” sculpture Chyr and his team made this year.

The sculpture, which Chyr explained was inspired by neurons, may not look like brain matter to some people, he said. “It is what it is,” the biology-turned-physics major said.

 The spiraling structure is flanked by balloon creatures resembling dragonflies. “I tried to [create] a whole world,” Chyr said.

The BSLC was the perfect home for the suspended neuron-like structures, for more reason than simply their shared subject matter. “[I wanted] to use the architecture that the space offers,” Chyr said, “to take advantage of the height.”

Chyr began making balloon sculptures during his second year at the U of C when he heard that Summer Breeze, the annual spring carnival on the Quads, needed a balloon artist and would pay $30 an hour. Chyr took the job, but didn’t mention he had never twisted balloons before. “The first few [customers] were forgiving,” he said, remembering that first day.

After attending a talk by architect James Carpenter, who is known for his use of space and light, Chyr came up with the idea of adding lights to the balloon sculpture.

“With the balloons you can change the way you see light,” Chyr said, adding that he was particularly struck by the different hues of yellow he could create with the light.

The work began Friday at 4 p.m. and continued throughout the weekend, late into Sunday night. Chyr said that about 600 to 700 balloons were used in the sculpture, which was partially funded by the University of Chicago Arts Council. When funding ran short, he did what any balloon sculptor would do. “I had to work at birthday parties to fund it,” he said.

The balloons can last up to two weeks and the sculpture will hang into finals week.