Cherophobia: Party balloon performance art reminds us ‘what it means to be human’

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Colour photography of live artist Noëmi Lakmaier being bound by ropes to 20,000 balloons inside a church.
Noëmi Lakmaier is immobilised for the entire duration of the performance without food or water.()

This weekend Noëmi Lakmaier will lie still for nine hours as a team of balloon assistants and a bondage engineer attach 20,000 party balloons to her immobilised body.

The performance work at the Sydney Opera House requires six kilometres of rope, and may or may not result in lift-off. Its title, Cherophobia, means the fear of joyfulness or happiness.

“It’s about the process, the anticipation, the wonder and unknowingness of if anything will happen,” Lakmaier, a British-Viennese live performance artist, says.

The childlike balloons, reminiscent of the animated film Up, are counterbalanced by the tension provided by the rope, which restrains the artist and her body.

The contradiction, Lakmaier says, is meant to remind us of what it means to be human.

“We’re all supposed to want to be happy, aren’t we?” she says.

“Being frightened of what we want seems to push and pull, and leave us in a constant Catch-22, which sounds so uncomfortable, but in so many ways resonates with the fight between my body and the balloons.”

Not the everyday

Lakmaier’s art is underpinned by existential philosophy and the construct of control.

In an interview about Cherophobia, she refers to German philosopher Martin Heidegger and his masterwork Being and Time.

“[Heidegger] talks about the everyday as this kind of mode that we operate, in which we forget who we are,” she says.

Colour photograph of artist Noëmi Lakmaier bound in ropes to a platform in her artwork Cherophobia.
Cherophobia took years of engineering and mathematics to develop.()

“He talks about it as a necessity of being a human, but that occasionally we need experiences that are not the everyday.

“He calls these ‘moments of vision’, and they enable us to continue being human and to grow.

“Maybe that’s a bit grandiose, but I hope that maybe there might be a small moment of vision for people. Something that’s very different [to their everyday].”

Otherness and identity

The kernel of the idea for Cherophobia formed in early 2008, nearly eight years prior to the realisation of its first performance.

That was at Unlimited Festival in the UK — an initiative to showcase and champion emerging disabled and deaf artists across all art practices.

Cherophobia is tied to Lakmaier’s identity as a person with disability and the way she sees her place in the world, which she hopes will resonate with audiences in 2017.