Article By: Laura Swanson
Published: Jul 28, 2011
Acclaimed artist and SCAD M.F.A. candidate Jason Hackenwerth constructed the enormous balloon installation "And Then There Were None" for the Hong Kong International Art Fair.
Larger-than-life installations by SCAD M.F.A. candidate Jason Hackenwerth enchant audiences around the globe, from South Korea to London, Paris to India. Hackenwerth's exhibition spaces include such surprising locations as an ancient lava flow in Oregon, where renowned arts festivals, retailers, museums and civic organizations commission Hackenwerth to create complex sculptural balloon constructions that are sometimes whimsical and other times vexing.
This year, from May 26-29, the Savannah College of Art and Design presented Hackenwerth's specially commissioned ephemeral installation titled "And Then There Were None" at the Hong Kong International Art Fair, or ART HK. Held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, the event is Asia's premier art fair, this year attracting 260 galleries from 38 countries and presenting works by more than 1,000 artists.
At ART HK, Hackenwerth engaged the monumental task of creating an installation for the art fair's entranceway. "ART HK was a real challenge because the convention center is huge and the sculpture, in order to feel powerful, would need to be equally huge," Hackenwerth said. The installation required several hours of preparation and Hackenwerth had limited time to create the piece in one evening. To construct the sculpture, he skillfully twisted, bent and fastened each component with the assistance of volunteers, workers and SCAD students. "The workspace that I was given to make the sculpture would limit the scale in which I could create the form. I had to make this piece in five different sections and squeeze each of the sections out of two little double doors in multiple places in the convention center to get it to a place where it could all be assembled, embellished and finished."
Hackenwerth's team worked briskly to form the sculpture, hoist the structure into its display space, and light the figure for presentation. The completed installation, an enormous 35-foot sculpture, required 10,000 of Hackenwerth's signature latex balloons in rich brown, natural blush and translucent shades. "It turned out to be remarkable," he said. "It was in one of the most predominantly viewed areas because it was right there, front and center, as you entered the fair. It was something that certainly everyone saw."
Hackenwerth's "And Then There Were None" installation did not portray an easily distinguishable shape for viewers but rather captivated them in its glow and invited audiences to draw their own meaning from its form. The name of the piece, however, was a dramatic allusion to diminishing bee and fish populations and expresses Hackenwerth's desire to celebrate and preserve life on earth.
In May, Hackenwerth joined the London-based retailer Selfridges as it launched Project Ocean, a campaign designed to celebrate the beauty of the ocean, highlight the issue of over-fishing and help consumers make positive choices when purchasing products that originate in the sea. For Project Ocean, he used 35,000 biodegradable balloons to create sculptures inspired by sea life. His brightly colored installation filled the department store's atrium with shades of pink and white, turning the space into a figurative coral reef. Hackenwerth participates in environmental initiatives such as Project Ocean because he hopes to make a positive impact with his artwork by alluding to the diverse and delicate nature of the world. "I know that the platform I've created for myself with my artwork gives me slightly more advantage for reaching a larger audience than others who feel passionate about these issues," he said. "I can't hide my passion."
The zest Hackenwerth shows for expressive artwork was recognized this spring when he was awarded the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Inc. grant after a rigorous application process. According to the foundation, the grant provides "financial assistance to individual visual artists of established ability through the generosity of the late Lee Krasner, one of the leading abstract expressionist painters and the widow of Jackson Pollock."
Hackenwerth views the award as a milestone in his life. "The Pollock-Krasner Foundation Inc. is a benchmark in an artist's career," he said. "It's a type of validation and quite a prestigious mark on my résumé. I'm pinching myself."
He plans to apply the grant funding toward an investigation of plywood as a medium for large-scale kinetic sculpture. Throughout his artistic career, Hackenwerth has valued his ability to grow personally and artistically through education and exploration. He acknowledges the role his education at SCAD played in his flourishing career. "It's hard to identify all of the ways that I've benefited from my experience at SCAD, but I can say that there's no way I'd be here now if it hadn't been for SCAD," he said. "The graduate program was challenging and the instructors were informative and also understood the sensitive emotions of artists, so they were able to push me and other students to bring out the best in our work. I am pleased that SCAD is so invested in students and its alumni that it is possible for an artist like me to continue to dream of big projects."
Hackenwerth is currently in the preliminary design phase of an ambitious installation.This December he will create more than a half dozen latex balloon sculptures for a giant cantilevered mobile at the Guggenheim Museum's Peter B. Lewis Theater. The sculptures will be suspended over an audience during Isaac Mizrahi's narration of the classic children's story "Peter and the Wolf."
The Guggenheim project will require weeks of preparation and will take its final form during an inspiring moment where one idea blossoms into a stunning sculpture. For Hackenwerth, the process of conceiving and constructing an installation is reflective of his own career development. He made balloon poodles and swords on the street during his student days to earn spending money for art supplies and has since transformed the balloon into a medium of its own. His achievements are evidence that determination, drive and the spark of imagination are keys to success. "Ultimately, what I hope the most is that young people who don't know what they want to do with their lives could see a person use something so simple as a balloon and do something transformational with it. If that's possible, then anything is possible for their young lives," he said.