Jan Hakon Erichsen is a visual artist and self-described “balloon destroyer” based out of Oslo, Norway. He recently gained national attention after a compilation video of his balloon popping videos went viral on Twitter.
In the video, Erichsen hilariously and dangerously builds increasingly complicated and absurd machines with the sole purpose of popping balloons. Erichsen risks his body in several of the clips by coming dangerously close to knives, axes, and saws. The video racked up over 9.5 million views in 24 hours and accumulated over 200,000 likes and 80,000 retweets on Twitter.
Erichsen’s art is mostly comprised of videos that show him breaking objects in very cumbersome ways using machines built out of wood, metal, and various tools. He represents a school of artistic thought where destruction is its own form of creation. His videos have a captivating kinetic, chaotic energy that, according to Erichsen focuses on “fear, anger, and frustration”. But they also have a humorous, entertaining quality which has led to them to become widely popular.
His art has been featured in over 40 solo and two-man exhibitions throughout Norway and has been exhibited in several international galleries. His videos have also been featured in multiple international film festivals. He’s been discovered before by various news outlets and TV shows but his recent viral video has gotten him national attention on a much larger scale.
Erichsen graduated from the Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts in 2004. He’s been working as a professional artist perfecting his unique brand of art for the past 15 years. He currently lives in Oslo with his girlfriend and two teenage daughters.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jan Hakon Erichsen’s Art Is Partially Inspired by Punk Rock and Horror Movies
In an interview earlier this year with The Politic, Erichsen describes the inspiration behind his art. “I think of destruction as the dark side of creativity and I’ve always been drawn to it.” he said, “It’s like punk rock or horror movies in a sense.”
He says that he’s always had an interest in the “more neglected sides of creativity” including “people fixing their backpacks with duct tape because they can’t afford a new one or Graffiti artists hacking their spray cans to create a bigger mess just for the hell of it.”
He goes on to list Chris Burden as one of his primary influences because he was inspired by arists that “literally risked their life doing their art”. Burden was a performance artist in the 1970s most famously known for his performance piece Shoot (1971) where he had his assistant shoot him in the left arm from 16 ft. away with a .22 caliber rifle. That same year Burden releases Five Day Locker Piece where he locked himself in a locker for 5 days.
He formerly described his art as depicting “fear, anger, and frustration” but says that it’s evolved to depicting “dark humor I find in everyday challenges”. His goal is to have viewers “look at the things that surround them in a slightly different way after watching my videos” but says if “people just think it’s fun and entertaining, I don’t see anything wrong with that”
That mix of entertainment and unique art is what made his recent balloon popping video so popular.
2. He Initially Wanted to Be a Video Artist
When Erichsen first started out at Norwegian National Academy of Fine Arts, he set out to be a video artist. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his older brother. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. Speaking to The Politic, he says his “first meeting with the video department was such a disaster that I didn’t make a single video my whole time there”
The disaster of a meeting was a blessing in disguise as it forced him to focus on “sculpture and installation work” and led him to “develop an interest in destruction and danger” which ultimately shaped his unique style.
Once he left the academy, he was able to pick up the video camera again and start making Instagram clips that eventually made him famous. He started his popular Instagram account because he wanted “to have some fun with making a balloon popping contraption and thinking “I’ll just film it with my phone and see how it works out” and then posting it just to share it with friends.”
The videos received overwhelmingly positive feedback and more attention than he anticipated which encouraged him to keep going.
3. He Has Art That Doesn’t Involve Balloon Popping
Erichsen has branched out into different subjects aside from endlessly popping balloons. In his 2010 project Obvious Art Works, he covered difficult subjects including love and 9/11 with a daily vlog that featured unfiltered, raw ideas with low production values.
In an interview with Anders Nygaard, he said “The project was about getting rid of filters in my thinking process. It was works I would not normally make because, in my thinking, they where somehow wrong to make. I would instead try to make all of them without any censorship.” He wanted to cover “All the obvious ideas which I have a sort of mental checklist not to do.” and produced and published all of the videos the same day.
He made an art installation titled “Fight Song” which featured Erichsen using homemade workout equipment designed to ‘punish’ the person using it. He also destroys clocks and dry pasta in addition to balloons.
4. He Was Featured on the TV Show Tosh.0
Erichsen’s recent viral Twitter video isn’t the first time he’s gotten widespread attention for his work. Earlier this year he was featured on internet clip show Tosh.0. Comedian Daniel Tosh pokes fun at Erichsen in his trademark fashion, calling the videos “balloon snuff films” and says that he “sees his work as a metaphor for how all arts programs should be defunded immediately”.
The crowd laughs uproariously while they are watching the balloon popping videos and gasps at a few points while some of the more dangerous machines are in motion.
5. He’s Never Gotten Seriously Hurt Performing His Art
After watching Erichsen’s videos, you would think he’s suffered some serious injuries from a stunt or two gone wrong. Most of his videos feature all sorts of sharp, heavy objects flying dangerously close to his head and body.
He told Vice in an interview earlier this year that he remarkably “hasn’t ever gotten badly hurt” in the making of his art and suffered “only some scratches and bruises.”
How does he stay safe? “I try not to rush into things and always test the more dangerous contraptions thoroughly before filming,” he said. “I’m more scared that other people will get hurt trying out my stunts, I sort of know what I’m doing.”
He has disclaimers on all of his social media pages that warn viewers “You should really, really, not try this at home”. Erichsen’s contraptions may look simple and hastily made but he puts a lot of work into making sure they don’t maim or kill him.