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Several materials are used in the production of modern balloons. Natural latex rubber and metalized nylon (sometimes mistakenly called “Mylar”) are the most common materials. Airigami creations are made with primarily latex balloons. Latex is a natural product derived from trees and is therefore biodegradable. The production of latex is a natural process of many plants, and tapping of the trees does not harm them. Latex harvesting discourages deforestation because latex-producing trees are left intact. A tree can produce latex for up to 40 years.
Balloons have existed for centuries. The earliest balloons were bladders from animals that were filled with air or liquids and hurled as weapons or toys. Many references to early, non-latex balloons can be found in literature:
Swiss Family Robinson (1813) “Papa,” said Jack, “can’t you make me a balloon with this piece of whale entrail?”
Moby Dick (1851) [re sperm whales] “Gasses are generated in him; he swells to a prodigious magnitude; becomes a sort of animal balloon.”
The first rubber balloons were made by Professor Michael Faraday in 1824 for use in his experiments with hydrogen at the Royal Institution in London. Toy balloons were introduced by pioneer rubber manufacturer Thomas Hancock the following year in the form of a do-it-yourself kit consisting of a bottle of rubber solution and a condensing syringe. Vulcanized toy balloons, which unlike the earlier kind were unaffected by changes in temperature, were first manufactured by J.G. Ingram of London in 1847 and can be regarded as the prototype of modern toy balloons.
Depending on the project and the resources available, balloons are most often filled with air, helium, or nitrogen. Most Airigami projects use air. Everything from small hand pumps, similar to the pumps used to inflate sport balls and bicycle tires, through large air compressors are used.
There’s no firm time table for the life of a balloon. All latex balloons will deflate. Despite their shrinking, they may hold their shape for days or even weeks. Typically, larger sculptures with more balloons can look good for a longer period of time since no single balloon is critical to the overall appearance of a sculpture. Rubber protectants, such as the sprays often used to protect rubber on car tires, will help keep a sculpture looking good longer, but they won’t keep them looking fresh indefinitely. The amount of time needed to use those protectants often makes them completely impractical for large displays. We just accept that what we are sculpting are memories. They can last indefinitely that way.
Latex balloons are 100% bio and photo degradable. In other words, latex breaks down under normal environmental conditions like other natural products. In fact, the rate of decay, under the same conditions, is approximately the same as that of an oak leaf.
While tens of thousands of balloons are quite a few balloons, keep in mind that most of the volume of the sculpture will actually be filled with air. All of the balloons used in this sculpture fit on a single shipping pallet. Likewise, once popped, the balloons will return to their initial uninflated size. So around 200 pounds of popped balloons will remain at the conclusion of the event.
Indeed. That’s why we care so much about what material we use. Airigami creations are primarily made with latex balloons. Latex is a natural product derived from trees and is biodegradable. The production of latex is a natural process of many plants, and tapping of the trees does not harm them. Latex harvesting discourages deforestation because latex-producing trees are left intact. A tree can produce latex for up to 40 years. Balloons are a great product for creating big impact with a small ecological footprint.
Uninflated and broken balloons may be a choking hazard for small children. Adult supervision is always recommended around balloons for this reason. We encourage discarding of broken balloons at once to avoid any mishaps with children picking up scraps. Airigami installations are usually intended to be viewed and not handled, so accidental popping of balloons in a finished sculpture is rare and there should be no chance of choking. Reports of children choking on balloons are rare. With proper adult supervision, the risk can be eliminated entirely.
Latex allergies present a moderate to serious health problem for a very small percentage of the population. Reactions to naturally produced latex may range from minor skin irritation to reactions so severe that immediate emergency medical treatment is required to prevent death. Those most at risk of having an allergic reaction to latex are in the medical arena —doctors, nurses, dentists, technicians, and certain patients. These people are exposed to latex gloves and equipment which has latex on it. In other words, you aren’t likely to experience a latex allergy for the first time at a fun event with balloons. In most cases, you’ll know about a latex allergy you have from a past experience in a medical setting.
There has been a lot of interest lately in finding alternatives to natural latex rubber, however to date, there are no alternatives in production that give us the properties needed for our balloon twisting. This question is usually asked by people that are concerned about latex allergies. Certainly any material can be used to create sculptures. However, the properties of latex rubber balloons, specifically from the Hevea brasiliensis plant, that make them appealing for balloon twisting have not yet been reproduced in other materials, or at least not in any commercially available product.