After being overrun by giant glowing rabbits in 2016, Lower Manhattan’s palm tree paradise Brookfield Place is hosting another set of oversized balloon sculptures called Animal Soul.
The colorful larger-than-life figures arriving on July 11 are best described as a savage garden, creations that are a cross between flowers and insects. Dreamed up by the whimsical mind of artist Jason Hackenwerth, Animal Soul will tower over Brookfield Place’s Waterfront Plaza, reaching up to 30 feet tall.
In addition to his curious garden, Hackenwerth also created five wearable balloon “sculptures” called Megamites, which come to life with the help of professional dancers. They’ll be performing two two-hour shows daily, including a Quiet Dance Party on the night of Thursday, July 12. Commissioned by Arts Brookfield, Animal Soul is free to visit but only around through Sunday, July 15.
Born in St. Louis, Hackenweth is a painter, sculptor and multimedia artist whose giant balloon sculptures have been exhibited all over the world, including the Guggenheim and London’s Victoria & Albert. He learned the art of balloon twisting from his mom and moved to New York in 2003, where he promptly began adding whimsical balloon artworks to subway stations across the city as a distraction from the ever-present advertisements.
“We’re bombarded by images everywhere, and the intention behind all this is to offer an escape,” says Hackenwerth. “To literally stop people in their daily lives and transport them into a shared experience.
“With inflatables there’s an immediate response,” he adds. “There’s something magical about balloons: They defy gravity and seem to belong in a magical world we can enter. The result is people are transfixed and connected.”
He goes as far as to say his work is good for brain health: “Science bears out the theory that encountering new experiences creates new neural pathways, and these can be a doorway to new places in our life.”
Public spaces like Brookfield Place have an important role for artworks like Hackenwerth’s, which struggle to find a traditional gallery that can accommodate them — or would even want to.
“I’m not creating a salable object, but instead I’m making something that’s more of an experience,” he says. “It’s difficult for the traditional art gallery to come to terms with them. I am creating art that is for everyone, but owned by no one.”
See Animal Soul on July 11-15 at Brookfield Place, 230 Vesey St. The Waterfront Plaza is open Mon-Sat noon-8 p.m. and Sun until 6 p.m. The Megamites perform Wed/Fri noon-2 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.; Thurs noon-2 p.m.; Sat/Sun noon-3 p.m. The Quiet Dance Party is on Thurs from 6-9 p.m. artsbrookfield.com