Friday, 14 January 2011



My fascination with flying and falling has practical consequences. Fear stops me from going to the theatre frequently, because the seats I can afford are high up and vertigo kicks in. But there’s a pleasurable side to it too. For years I haunted the Swiss Bon Marché restaurant in Victoria to look at its mural of workmen sitting strung out along a girder, eating sandwiches, their legs dangling over one side, nothing between them and the ground hundreds of feet below. I don’t even have to see the picture – just thinking about it makes my stomach clench with fear and pleasure. 
An image of Leap into the Void after 3 Seconds , which I saw at the Nothing New Under the Sun  exhibition at the Royal Academy, should be right here on this page. I have email permission from Ciprian Muresan to use it. But I have just spent over an hour trying to insert it into this page and each time it is rejected because I 'do not have permission'. I've never had this problem before so am baffled...Problem solved 19.10.15

On the right  is the image of Leap Into The Void,  which Muresan's work is referring to - a famous gravity defying  photo montage made forty years ago by the French artist Yves Klein. It’s a dramatic picture  suggesting freedom and abandon, yet in reality it's highly contrived. I first saw it 15 years ago at the Hayward Gallery and could not resist buying the poster (2 metres high). Now tattered and torn it's rolled up in a wardrobe but I can't bear to let it go.

Muresan's work on the left is one (of several) alternative versions artists have made of the original since 1960. He gives us (in a Roumanian street) what we might have seen 3 seconds later, Klein's light bird-like figure dumped and slumped on the unforgiving road surface. The man lies stretched out straight, face downward. Klein’s romanticism, optimism and mysticism is smashed by the cold hard impact of scientific rationalism. A joyous flight of fancy is turned into a suicidal act. 

Yet there's an intriguing detail. It's as if the man fell with his arms raised above his head, in a gesture which usually means surprise or supplication or prayer or  even delight. The arm we can see suggests peace and paradox...

Now here's someone who knows something about the fear/fascination of falling:

Fear of Happiness by A.E.Stallings

Looking back, it's something I've always had:
As a kid, it was a glass-floored elevator
I crouched at the bottom of, my eyes squinched tight,
Or staircase whose gaps I was afraid I'd slip through,
Though someone always said I'd be all right -
Just don't look down or See, it's not so bad
(The nothing rising underfoot). Then later
The high-dive at the pool, the tree-house perch,
Ferris wheels, balconies, cliffs, a penthouse view,
The merest thought of airplanes. You can call
It a fear of heights, a horror of the deep;
But it isn't the unfathomable fall
That makes me giddy, makes my stomach lurch,
It's that the ledge itself invents the leap.

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