Party balloon performance art reminds us 'what it means to be human'

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.

"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.

"I'm a migrant in the UK and it's becoming more and more othering in the times that we live in," she says.

"I identify as a member of the LGBT community and I'm a disabled person, so I feel that I'm othered in a quite a lot of ways.

"I'm also interested in the phenomenological sense of the other, that we are all other from each other and that it is impossible to for any of us to experience ourselves and have an identity without understanding ourselves from each other.

"That's very important from early childhood development. Once a baby starts to understand its otherness from its parents, it can start to understand that it is itself. This remains important for the rest of our lives."

Cherophobia will be performed at the Sydney Opera House's Concert Hall as part of the ANTIDOTE festival on Sunday, September 3.