Valentina Primo sits down with Demian Zen, one of only 15 self-titled 'bubbleologists' in the world. Currently in Cairo, Zen spends his life travelling the globe and creating giant, sparkling soap globes and encasing famous landmarks within them...
He can make colossal bubbles. He can blow into a bubble and create another one. And, when he pulls out his chain of cotton ropes, he can shower the public with sparkling soap globes. They call themselves Bubbleologists, and there are only about fifteen of them around the world. Like a magician, their métier is grounded on the playful art of creating ephemeral creatures in street performances that stand out. Because they are crazy, because they awaken our inner child.
Born in Argentina but travel-bound, Demian Zen believes he has a power no one else has: the ability to bring out the child every adult holds inside. His bubbles, kaleidoscopic mixtures of intense greens, rich purples and oranges, bright blues and even gold, astonish, spark smiles, and trigger questions to young and old. Making the wobbly giants through a top-secret mixture that he adapts to different countries, Demian Zen puts on unique streets performances across different cities around the world.
“Bubbles are usually associated with playing, just like drawing. But when you do it with passion, technique and dedication, it turns into an art,” says the 34-year-old artist. His passion, now transformed into a personal trademark, is to visually wrap world landmarks inside his bubbles. Thus, monuments like Italy’s Colosseum, India’s Taj Mahal, and Egypt’s Sphinx have all been encircled by his enchanting bubbles.
His first travels took him through Latin America, the first step that pushed him across the ocean to visit Italy, Finland, Sweden, Hungary and then move on towards the Balkan countries, Eastern Europe and Russia, finally reaching India, where he was invited to the International Bubble Festival as the only Latin American artist among 15 bubble men from across the world. Last month, he reached Egypt.
But his magic potion, based on a top-secret solution, has a recipe he is not willing to divulge. “All those who make art with bubbles consider the formula as the most precious thing we have. It’s like the magician’s trick. If we gave it away, we would be killing the art, because a big part of it is to develop the technique,” he explains.
Refined and skillfully developed, his tools and techniques are no joke, as it takes a high knowledge of physics and chemistry to master the soap formations. “When a bubble takes shape, it’s because of the formation of a film, since there is tension between particles, a tension that makes them attract each other. Water particles tend to pull each other closer, as water tends to become a drop, so you need to hold the drop and expand it; you need something heavier than the water’s tension,” he explains, absorbed in thought.
“I learned this through intuition and studying.” The first bubbleman in the world to create bubbles using a chain, Demian then switched to plastic when he began to plan the trip around the world, until he met other counterparts on the road, finally resorting to cotton ropes.
Tracing back his first bubbles, Demian recalls it all started by chance. “I was washing dishes at home in Tigre, and suddenly grabbed some soap, made a gesture with my hands, and a huge bubble came out,” he says. Years later, he saw a video of a man making 20-meter bubbles which inspired him to try different formulas to make his own spherical giants. “Until one day, on Children’s Day in Argentina, I grabbed my chance. I took my tools, went to a square, and began making big bubbles. People began to stop and gaze,” he says.
Six years later, while performing in Rome, he met another bubbleologist doing the same thing, who gave him a garland with four circles to create a rain of bubbles. Demian started considering turning his passion into a full-time job. “I kept doing it as a hobby, but as people started asking whether I was setting up shows or selling my tools, they gave me the idea of doing so,” he explains.
“As I traveled, I had to adapt ingredients to every place, because they work in different ways in different parts of the world. It’s all chemistry and physics: the water is different, the wind, the atmosphere, the level of pollution. That’s how it grew and here I am, 16 months later, travelling the world,” he says with a smile.
A Special Intuition
A very perceptive person with a sensitive mind, Demian has delved into the depths of intuition and reiki, not only focusing on making others smile, but also on sincere, pure happiness. “Someone once told me that, according to the ancient Mayan calendar, my mission in life is to bring out the child inside every one. According to that calendar, I am a 'white magician',” he says, “And it is true; I actually prefer to make an adult happy and make him play more than a kid, although when you make children happy, you make adults happy, too.”
A few amongst passers-by are skeptics, like busy businessmen who do not want their clothes to get wet. “But I love to break their routine and make them stop to look at a bubble. And it’s funny because if they don’t, they will crash against it and end up soaked in its water. So whether they want it or not, the bubble makes an impact in their lives,” he says, laughing.
“I truly believe that it’s the simple small things that can create big changes in our life,” he says. It was a big bubble, in fact, that changed Demian’s own life, leading him to a world of travel. “I also love to know that many of the bubbles I make will fly out of sight, and will reach people that I will never get to see, perhaps transforming their life,” he considers.
But his travels, he adds, are not the true passion behind his art. “I travel around to world making bubbles, but it’s not a passion for travel: travelling for me is not as pleasant as the moment I am making bubbles." Why do it then? Because Demian adores to destroy conventional ideas. “That’s why I wear a skirt,” he says, pointing at the Indian fabric he is wearing under his galabeya.
“People think that travelling the world is only for the rich, and I want to prove that me, a person who is not, can too. What I enjoy is to feel free; free to travel and free to stay; and this is only my first trip," he says, as he unveils the real how the meaning of his name Demian predicted his mission in life: “He who comes from a village.” “I do believe someday I will go back,” he says as he heads to the airport. But it’s not the time, yet: now China awaits, with many moments to bubble around.
Photography by Ahmed Tareq.