The Art of Falling
by Sean Lovelace
I know falling, its joys and consequences. Its ups and downs. I started early, the usual somersaults and tumbles, then, at age seven, while skipping backwards, seven stiches on the chin. Another 11 stitches in the knee, while repeatedly (a consistent attribute of my falling—again and again—we fall into habits) leaping out of the back of my grandfather’s parked pickup truck onto gravel. In my teens I jumped from trees, once misjudging a gap and lodging my neck in the V of two branches, the blow and the ache and the spinning darkness not unlike the multiple times I’d fallen from on high and “knocked my breath out.” Still, I enjoyed this experience, the surge and tug, the stirring within and without, the whir and plummet and jolt. During my collegiate years, I leapt from moving vehicles (resulting in several concussions), but my real specialty was houses. I greatly admired launching from the roofs of houses, the rush, the thump, the roll (Ukemi: the martial art of falling), all of this culminating at age 30, when I leapt from a house during the middle of an Alabama summer drought, the dirt yard as concrete, the left heel (calcaneus) shaped like an egg. And like an egg, crushed. Thus I retired from the majority of my falling. But I am still a devotee. Gymnastics, Parkour, the Ninja Warrior TV series, most any performance artist who works in the medium of falling. The fall, as in motion, as in expression of the mind and body, possibly as elemental as movement, the gears within our ancient synapses, possibly as metaphorical…A man is born. A man walks the earth. A man leaps. He may appear to be flying. A man falls.
A man possibly loses style points for the helmet, but still: caught there, falling. The line, the body. The act captivating, the image of. Parkour as expressing the primal within the constructed, urban space. The rail, the fencing (the cage?), the glass and steel building—escape! Subversion. Art.
Leap into the Void, by Yves Klein.
Klein was an artist and an expert in Judo, another variety of falling. He stated to have once claimed the Earth’s atmosphere by signing his autograph on the sky, though I’m not exactly sure his methodology (except for painting thousands of monochrome, blue images). In 1960, years before Parkour or Photoshop, Klein leapt out of a window. Most admirable is the individual bicycling along oblivious (assisting in structure and theme), potentially an allusion to “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” an iconic painting by Peter Breugel (though many contest this attribution), wherein Icarus is splashing into the sea but no one really notices or seems to care. Klein said he used his “falling” photograph as evidence of his ability to undertake unaided lunar travel (“To paint space, I owe it to myself to go there, to that very space…”). Klein said we shouldn’t use tricks to levitate. Klein used a trick to levitate. No Photoshop, but he did merge two negatives: these two:
But what of it? The man did fall.
As did American artist Paul McCarthy: “I jumped out of a window in the sculpture department in a homage to Yves Klein.” McCarthy seems very Parkour, as in his body as instrument, as brush and canvas. He would often cover his body in paint or ketchup or, say, feces. Once, while vomiting repeatedly, he stuck a Barbie doll up his own rectum, and so on, until the audience had reached its tolerance threshold. They all left. (Grad students had to clean up the room, BTW, which must have been grand.) There is something in this essence—I just cannot watch—contained in tight wire walkers, BASE jumpers (I actually half-squint as I watch them on Youtube), other varieties of falling, or almost-falling, or waiting-to-fall…especially in photographs. You didn’t see the leap, you didn’t see the landing. You see the fall. An art that wants you to look and look away. Query: Is falling natural or obscene? Query: Do we want the person to fall? Query: Ever had an odd urge while standing along the edge? Query: What is that feeling in the pit of the stomach?
Paul McCarthy’s Complex Shit, basically inflatable feces. (One summer day in 2008 Switzerland this sculpture took off in a wind, but like anything else, it eventually descended, bringing down a power line, breaking several windows, and landing on a children’s home.)
Other homages to Klein?
DenisDarzachq, a photographer of young people, specifically while in free-fall.
Darzachq believes these photographs are a metaphor for the current socioeconomic situation of France. Here is a fascinating video of how these images are created (No, not with Photoshop). Note the seriousness of those who fall. The expression.
Kerry Skarbakka, who references philosopher Martin Heidegger’s description of human existence as a process of perpetual falling. To deteriorate. To lapse. To fall away from the self. To fall into the world. Yes, there is a philosophy of falling.
Nigel Rolfe: “I did do some very extreme physical things while devoted to pushing my work forward, both self-violating and destructive: concussions, dislocations.”
Li Wei? Who manipulates his falls…Is this manipulation a form of falling?
From Mark Neville’s “The Jump Films,” a most intriguing film project. Neville says, “I made The Jump Films in Amsterdam whilst at art school there. They were a response, almost a tribute, to the way in which my experience of iconic, heroic male performance art from the 1960’s and 70’s—works by Acconci, Bas Jan Ader, and Chris Burden—was mediated through grainy still images in art history books. The films were made with a high-speed film camera normally made in car-crash testing by Rolls Royce, and the resulting sequences, featuring me jumping off bridges in the Netherlands, are so slow that they make a direct reference to still photography."
I have no great interests here in the iconic or gender status of the 1960’s and 70’s works, or even the interplay between representation of performance art and the actual art (though these issues are indeed fascinating). What intrigues me is the technique: the way Neville uses the camera technology to “capture” the fall. For me, viewing these images was akin to “leaping” porn (though more interesting than porn—I simply mean to say, as I watched, my synapses crackled and the dopamine did arrive). Neville caught what I’ve always admired about falling—the fall itself, or what Yves Klein referred to as “the mark of the immediate.”
Acconci? Did organize several broad jumping events.
Chris Burden? I couldn’t find a lot of falling, but then again he did have someone nail his open palms to a Volkswagen. He also had someone shoot him with a rifle. He seemed to be a man who plunged himself into his art.
Bas Jan Ander. Let’s pause a moment where I once began—on a moving vehicle, on a roof—and watch two short videos, Fall 1 and Fall 2.
Fall 1 begins with a straight-back chair, an instrument of the inside, the table or desk, almost Victorian in its lines and essence, now repurposed (not so unlike the concepts of Parkour), its legs notching into the peak of the roof. The tumble aslant, and then, at 0:16, a delicious moment of the chair hanging on its precipice, the shoe wonderfully flung! The artist into the elemental, the shrubbery, the earth.
Fall 2 recreates the concept, as we move from balance, the mechanical, forward “progress,” but then...splash.
The fall. It is exquisite as an art form. In one act, it asks and then answers so many questions of our brief existence: Why are we here? What are we doing? What is happening? Where are we headed to? Bas Jan Ander’s final artistic expression, titled “In Search of the Miraculous,” was to board a small sailboat and attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean, alone. Another of his “experiments with gravity.” Radio contact was soon lost. The boat was located 10 months later 150 miles off the coast of Ireland, waterlogged, partially submerged. The artist was never seen again.
Sean Lovelace adores life as THE art form and bio/contributor notes the length of this one now. He blogs at seanlovelace.com. Goodnight.