On Sunday evening, balloons took over Twitter. In a viral video, a man employs absurd DIY contraptions made out of unfinished wood and knives to pop balloons. (What the balloons had done to the man to deserve such a fate, we may never know.) The videos were made by Oslo-based artist Jan Hakon Erichsen, who posted each of them as individual clips on Instagram. When viewed as a compilation, the actions produce a sort of cathartic, ASMR-like response in the viewer. Erichsen spoke to Intelligencer earlier this morning via phone.
Is this balloon stuff something you normally do?
I’ve been working on this because it’s mainly been an Instagram, so I’ve been doing that for one and a half years. It’s already become my main thing, so I don’t really do anything else now. I try to have a video out every day. The one you saw was a compilation of work I’ve done over several months.
What’s the point of the Instagram project? What are you trying to say?
I’m not trying to say anything in particular. It’s just what I’m interested in and trying to find new ways to use objects from our everyday lives in a new kind of absurd light. It takes something you see every day, like spaghetti or something. You see it so many times that you don’t see it anymore. It’s just there. I take it out and try to find a new way to use it. Hopefully, people enjoy it.
Were you surprised by the reaction you got online?
I’m kind of blown away by the response. I didn’t have that many followers on Twitter, so I was quite surprised.
I noticed that you packaged it as a meme. Why?
I didn’t really take Twitter that seriously. It’s kinda been my free space because I’ve got so many followers on Instagram. I have to kind of be more concerned about how I package it there. I just did it the way people do it on Twitter.
How many knives do you own?
I haven’t counted them. The reason I have so many is I had an installation when I was still a student and I had like 500 to 600 knives hanging from a ceiling in a room. And then I’ve got all these knives lying around in my studio still. That’s why I started working with so many knives. I use whatever I have in my studio, basically. I have a lot of knives. Obviously, I buy a lot of knives as well. So somewhere between 500 and 1,000 knives, I guess.
How do you come up with whatever contraption you use to destroy the balloons?
There’s two pathways. I’m inspired by something I’ve seen on the net or some artwork or something, and then I try to do something with the same feel to it. Or I come to my studio and I have no idea, no plan whatsoever. I just take out objects I want to use and start asking myself, like, How can I use this in an interesting way? What can I do with it? Then I just take it from there. The ideas come by themselves.
How long does it take you to put each one together?
I usually make between one or three videos a day. Some are really easy to make and some take a long time. Some require lots of takes and some require just one take. I try to make at least two when I’m in the studio.
Do you have a favorite contraption?
So hard to say, because I just focus on the next one all the time. I have a really short time span in my head. I really like the one I made last week with a knife mask, and then I popped a balloon with this really, really black paint on it. And the paint just turned into pigment when I popped it, so that was really nice. That was just paint that’s supposed to take away 98 percent of all light, so it looked like a black sun or something.
Is that mask comfortable?
No, it was really, really uncomfortable, actually. Get the shot then get it off.
Are you familiar with ASMR?
I didn’t know about it before I started this project. People started commenting on it. I started checking it out and sometimes I play up to that ASMR thing. I don’t try to make ASMR, but the whole projecting is that I’m really interested in how nonprofessionals use the video medium. I’m really inspired by DIY videos, and ASMR is also in that kind of line.
Do you actually hate balloons?
The balloons were more like comic relief. My focus is the destruction part of it and making the destruction devices. Before I started this project, a lot of the things I made were quite aggressive and turned people off. The minute I started using balloons, something changed. People started liking it. It was kind of a breakthrough, that I need a comic aspect to it. So I started focusing more on the slapstick.