‘Cherophobia’ means fear of happiness, fear of found joy, according to artist Naomi Lakmier. The artist of exhibtition Cherophobia. the title came as soon as naomi felt it was right. I was exploring the notion of happiness and what it meant, especially the meaning in society. In a way it represents the image of Cherophobia about wanting something and being happy and joyful, we are all so scared of something going wrong.” Naomi states.

The meaning of Cherophobia to me is almost like holding on to a fear and running with it. You’re almost intrigued by the unknown and in Naomi’s case; 20,000 helium party balloons lifted the structure below up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Cherophobia landing

I arrived at 10am to Shoreditch church. It felt so peaceful. The church was filled with what I thought were helium balloons and underneath lay a tiny bed suspended with cushions. When I visited I tried to not go in with any preconceptions, so when I saw the bed I thought Naomi was sound asleep cradled inside, as it was a 48 hour durational piece, I didn’t know what time she had started.

It all looked so peaceful and still, I was thinking to myself what if she moves? She’s lying incredibly still for such a long time. It wasn’t until I moved closer that Naomi wasn’t there and it actually was a pile of sand bags, which were apparently put there in replace of Naomi’s body weight. I didn’t want to touch the display in case I accidentally moved it slightly and popped a balloon. I wondered why Naomi had left.

Naomi was suppose to be inside for the whole 48 hours but there seemed to have been some technical difficulty, therefore Naomi couldn’t stay inside for the total duration of time.

I spoke to Naomi to understand what the process was like for her.

 “It was a long time in the planning. The idea started 8 years ago so some of the planning already happened but it started quite late and became increasingly technical involving engineers, doctors and physios and other experts. A lot of planning went into how to make the structure work so we could control the height. There were a huge amount of measurements to deal with.

What was the experience like being inside and suspended?

“It was a mixture, I found it really stressful on the first day because there were some things that went wrong and I just found it very stressful and got really uncomfortable. Then on the second day when we had sorted out the issues, it was actually lovely, it felt like being in a tight comfy hammock and floating because the moment it went up ….” Naomi, 2016.

  1. When did you start the process of being suspended?

“It started on Wednesday at 12pm and lift off was between 2-3pm on Thursday and remained for 6 or 7 hours until about 10pm. I was tied in such a way that I couldn’t really move. It felt like a cocoon, I could hardly move. When I lifted my head it moved a little bit and at some point I tried to see if I could kick my feet to swing backwards and forwards but they were too bound. Naomi, 2016.

  1. Were you scared that any of the balloons would pop?

“I wasn’t worried that if I moved I would pop a balloon, although one of my anxieties was if one of the strings broke and flew off, because if one broke that it meant the whole display would go as well along with me in it because there were only 8 ropes that were actually holding my body weight! Even just cutting one would already be quite dramatic.” Naomi, 2016.

Each bunch weighed roughly a kilo and a half and the structure weighed about 10 kilos. About 80 kilos were being suspended in total and the producers calculated that the structure could probably lift about 100 kilos, they thought that probably the force of the upward pull must of managed to release the structure off the ground. The rope that was holding Naomi up was very strong so there was no worry of the ropes breaking or snapping.

  1. How do you think other people reacted to the exhibition?

“People looked quite gobsmacked, confused, like kids looking at a Christmas tree.” Naomi, 2016.

Conversation with photographer:

“As a photographer whenever I’m asked to document something I always get great perspective on things because I’m not involved in the making of anything, I’m watching the whole time and this has been a brilliant thing to witness because there were so many unknowns. The timings of when to know when to photograph was always a mystery and that’s one of the beauties of performance art in general. From a logistical perception to photograph the installation theirs is a lot of waiting, as everything becomes transfixed on the main object in the room.” There was speculation on what would happen when Naomi gets lifted up it was almost like they were waiting for the ‘big moment’, but actually found that it was really compelling and still and everyone became really happy. “When they lifted her up and off the ground she was much further off the ground than I thought, she was up their first for about 4 or 5 hours. You’re trying to tell the story when there’s so little happening, there’s a sense of sensitivity when filming so close because you don’t want t invade their personal space.”

Conversation with producer:

“It’s a completely different project; the balloons are very random, there is no uniformity. The 6 of us came to oversee the production. We made the balloon garlands in columns; there were 3 teams to blow up the balloons, which were then left to be attached.”

“It’s more of a project about speed to inflate the balloons as they only have a certain float time. The balloons will float for 18-24 hours, but even this isn’t long enough because during this time they are reducing, so each balloon is then treated with a liquid called ‘High float’ which prolongs the float time and can extend it quite considerably. Even then they are slowly decreasing, but not as fast.”

The reason of the balloons being so big in size is that Naomi specifically wanted to be lifted by party balloons that were only colourful; she didn’t want to have any white balloons. The producer noted that the reason for the balloons being different colours was so that it could be attracted by the likes of little kids.

High Float is a powdered solution added when the balloons are being pumped up, the balloons have a mixture of high float and helium. They were saying, and I was watching that when the structure was in the process of being dismantled, the team had planned out a delicate procedure. When they were dismantling the structure each collection of balloons (200) were carefully un-strung from the upstairs walls before the process of removing them from the church started. The rows were then removed from top to bottom. The organisers were saying that the process was a lot longer putting the balloons up than taking them down, (the time it took to dismantle the whole structure was a couple of hours).


Bunches had to be taken through the church and out to the front where a gazebo stood, everyone that was helping with the popping wore blue overalls to protect him or herself from the high-flow. There were about 6 people per strand and this was taken out by saying ‘ready and go’, so the row of helpers could know when to leave so they weren’t being left behind. The balloons had to be popped in a controlled way under the sheltered gazebo to a) not let any of the toxic powder harm anyone’s skin and b) not let any of the balloons escape. The poppers had to were overalls and also mentioned that it was vital to not lose any whole balloons up into the sky, as there was apparently a minimum number that could go up (35 balloons), because of air traffic. It was quite amusing because there were a group of homeless people outside the church and they all wanted to have some balloons. The team was slightly sceptical of giving any away because of the loss of balloons up in the sky. They ended up giving those 2 or 3 and the next thing they lost 1.

Once all the balloons were gone the church almost felt very empty. My overview of the whole experience felt very wholesome, from watching the structure slowly sink lower and lower to the ground to watching the balloons being marched out and popped felt to me as if there had been an incredible story which had been told and I am thrilled to have witnessed it 

To find out more about the Unlimited Festival at the Southank Centre please visit: www.unlimited.southbankcentre.co.uk, and discover new work by disabled artists.