The rubber toy balloon should here be distinguished from the wider category of reusable inflatable structures that include, among a vast miscellany of human inventiveness, buoyancy aids, dirigible vehicles, inflatable architecture, military decoys, gold-lined gastric balloons, and blow-up sex dolls. In contrast, the transient balloon inhabits a less stable dimension of the aerial imagination. Precariously thin-walled and thus prone to sudden permanent disintegration or slow entropic deflation, the balloon remains a colorful motif of celebratory frivolousness and enchanted vulnerability. In descriptors such as “depressed” and “deflated,” “buoyant” and “puffed-up,” we can perhaps detect an unconscious identification with the balloon, whose tactile and visual resemblance to the human body compels both fetishism (globophilia) and fear (globophobia) in not uncommon equal measure; it is perhaps unsurprising that Freud equated a flaccid balloon in a dream with a male sexual member of similar detumescence. Frustrated potency and balloons can be observed together elsewhere in the context of political protests, where balloon releases are used to articulate a diverse range of grievance. Black balloons, to take just one example of helium-assisted resistance, have been released skyward to variously highlight papal shame (St. Pölten, Austria, 1998), the Palestinian nakba (Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine, 2008), and carbon emissions (Adelaide, Australia, 2009).
more from Jonathan Allen at Cabinet here.