So much of what we thought was solid has melted away. The ground has dissolved beneath us and we’re left falling through the unknown. It’s a scary sensation – though, as various explorations by artists of every stripe attest, it’s also a timeless one, and a basic part of being human. Here are five ways to fall. Steady now…
FALLING OR FLYING?
ROBERT LONGO’S Bizzare Love Triangle, 1986
“Every time I see you falling/ I get down on my knees and pray,” sings Bernard Sumner in his sweet, waifish voice, in the chorus to New Order’s synth classic Bizarre Love Triangle. It’s a typically open-ended line, adding a note of religious fervour to the lyrics’ general sense of crisis, at odds with the track’s driving upbeat rhythms and catchy melody. It has become one of the band’s best-loved songs, and the experimental video that artist Robert Longo created for it marked a watershed moment within the great decade of the music promo. Longo was one of the hip young stars of the 1980s New York art world, renowned not for video but black and white drawings. What he came up with in response to the song captures the overload of modern life with imagery of construction sites, escalators, teeming streets, children, fireworks and more in split screens and a disorienting rapid-fire montage.
Punctuating this rush of clips is an unforgettable vision: people in suits, falling in slow motion, against a clear blue sky. It expands on Longo’s signature work, Men in the Cities, where business people are depicted frozen in contorted poses, as if dancing or dying. That series, in turn, took its cue from a freeze frame of the final image of Rainer Werner Fassbender’s The American Soldier, where a gangster gracefully twirls and falls after being shot. Presumably filmed bouncing on a hidden trampoline, Longo’s businesspeople rise and fall like flailing fish against a blue heaven. These death-driven acrobats perfectly capture the ambiguity of falling, when the world is ripped away and you’re left floundering or flying in the void.
EMBRACE THE INFINITE: YVES KLEIN’S Leap Into The Void, 1960
No one in art history has courted the void quite like Yves Klein. For The Void, in 1958, he packed Parisians into an empty gallery. Another time, art collectors paid him to buy gold leaf that he then sprinkled into the Seine. Aside from the deep-blue pigment he patented, International Klein Blue, his most famous work is Into the Void, a doctored photograph of him apparently throwing himself from a first-floor window, arms outstretched, body parallel with the ground, which he will surely hit the next moment – if he doesn’t fly. Before his untimely death from a heart attack at the age of 34, Klein shook up the French art world with this kind of visionary mischief, anticipating many movements of the following decades, from Pop to conceptual art. Yet there’s a very real invitation to embrace the infinite in Klein’s iconic photo, fired by Eastern spirituality. His interest in the void began when he studied judo in Tokyo, becoming one of the few Europeans to gain a black belt there. (His Parisian judoka friends held the tarpaulin he actually crashed into to create the photo.) The void he hopes to fall or float within is a Zen-derived notion of a state of true freedom without worldly concerns.
THE PRATFALL: NAOMI CAMPBELL’S catwalk tumble, 1993
In Paris, when Naomi Campbell wobbled like a new-born deer in those notorious Vivienne Westwood platform heels, then fell on her butt as the paps leaned in with cameras flashing, she performed an act of universal comedy. Theorists have come up with various possible answers as to why the sight of someone falling over has been funny throughout culture and history. Henri Bergson thought that laughing at out-of-the-ordinary behaviour is a way of making everyone else follow the rules, while Freud believed that humour is a release from rational thought. Encircled by a big pink feather boa, 23-year-old Naomi laughed it off, got back up and completed the walk. She may have unwittingly given herself a big career boost. In 1966, psychologist Elliot Aronson identified the Pratfall Effect, the way people (and things) can seem more appealing when they are at ease with their mistakes. Psychological studies confirming the phenomenon have ranged from the increased appeal of job applicants who admit past errors to the allure of imperfect biscuits. However foolish you might feel landing on your bum, if you handle it right, chances are you’ll come over as more honest, trustworthy and real.
or flying in the void.
LOVE HURTS: JULEE CRUISE’S Falling, 1990
“Don’t let yourself be hurt this time,” purrs Julee Cruise, like the voice of your subconscious in one of the 1990s’ defining hits, Falling. The chorus of “Falling/ Falling/ Are we falling in love?” – delivered in a layered, spacy soundscape, is more like a druggy bad dream than a declaration of stonking romance. The song’s power, though, is all about its context. It’s impossible to think of Falling outside of Twin Peaks, the TV show it was created for, and David Lynch, who penned the lyrics. As the writer David Foster Wallace had it, being Lynchian is all about jarring and surreal contrasts, which is how Cruise’s gigs are staged in the show: otherworldly apparitions in its logging town Roadhouse. But the track’s significance goes beyond off-kilter effects. Lynch’s perennial subjects are innocence and evil – particularly the kind lurking in shadows cast by cosy suburban picket fences. In Twin Peaks’ tale of a picture-perfect high-school homecoming queen with a secret dark side, Cruise’s song seems to be less about our modern notion of falling in love than The Fall in Eden. The sexual side of original sin has been drawn out in countless depictions of women, from Cranach’s saucy Eves to Hollywood’s femme fatales, types Lynch probes through Twin Peaks’ central mystery girl, Laura Palmer.
PRIDE COMES BEFORE A FALL: PIETER BREUGHEL
The Elder’s Landscape with
The Fall of Icarus, C1555
There has probably been an Icarus in every culture throughout history: the guy undone by having ideas above his station. This Greek boy literally aimed too high when he flew too close to the sun. His father, Daedalus, was an inventor talented enough to try and change our biological destiny by giving us wings. He did so out of necessity, to set himself and Icarus free (they’d been imprisoned on Crete by King Minos). Icarus got carried away with the pleasures of flight; the wax holding his wings together melted and he plunged into the sea. As a parable for our own time of technological, medical and economic advancement brought low by age-old Mother Nature, it rings loud as a death knell. Yet Pieter Breughel the Elder’s 1555 Landscape with the Fall of Icarus takes the subject in an entirely different direction. The focus is the everlasting landscape and its everyday inhabitants: the farmer with his eyes steadily fixed on the earth he ploughs, the shepherd looking to the clouds perhaps to check the weather rather than daydream, the busy fisherman, the merchant’s ship. Icarus is just an irrelevant pair of thrashing legs in the sea in the picture’s lower corner. The tragedy of his failed aspirations is a blip. Life, and workaday mankind, prevails. As WH Auden wrote in his poem about the painting, the ship “sails calmly on”.
or flying in the void…
photography SHINI PARK
art direction CAMILO GONZÁLEZ
words SKYE SHERWIN