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Falling for Gravity

Invisible Forces in Contemporary Art

by Catherine James (Author)
Monographs XIV, 208 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: On Shaky Ground
  • Stepping Off
  • Collapse
  • Architectural Burlesque
  • Wings of Pathos
  • Radical Bouncing
  • Gravity and Grace
  • Chapter 2: The Cosmic Cage
  • Clown Fall
  • Double Act
  • Falling, Falling Again, Falling Better
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Chapter 3: Heavy Stuff
  • Heavy Industry
  • Steel Works
  • Telluric Gods
  • Congo Line
  • Tour de Force
  • Workers Leaving the Factory
  • Horsepower
  • Chapter 4: Vertigo
  • Lost in Film
  • Machines that Move
  • Other Turns
  • Helical Journeys
  • Vertigo
  • Chapter 5: Critical Mass
  • Mass, Muscle and Movement
  • Puppet Envy
  • Graviphilia
  • Force Fields
  • Afterword
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Illustrations

Figure 1. Bernard Tschumi, Advertisements for Architecture, 1976 (1974–1978). © Bernard Tschumi. Courtesy of Bernard Tschumi Architects, New York.

Figure 2. Catherine Yass, High Wire, 2008. 16-mm film and MiniDv transferred to HD MPEG digital files. 7-min, 23-second loop. © Catherine Yass. Courtesy of the artist and Alison Jacques Gallery, London. All rights reserved. DACS, 2017.

Figure 3. Catherine Yass, Safety Last, 2011. A set of eight colour etchings, each made from five plates on Somerset Velvet White 300 gsm paper. 35.1 × 39.0 cm/Image 20.9 × 25.7 cm. Edition of twenty. © Catherine Yass. Courtesy of the artist and Alan Cristea Gallery, London. All rights reserved. DACS, 2017.

Figure 4. Gordon Matta-Clark, Clockshower, 1973. Still from 16-mm film on video (13.50 min, colour, silent). © Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, DACS, London, 2017.

Figure 5. Jeremy Deller, Sacrilege, 2012. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Figure 6. John Wood and Paul Harrison, Twenty-Six (Drawing and Falling Things), 2001. Video still. Images courtesy of the artists and Carroll/Fletcher, London.

Figure 7. Stan Douglas, Juggler, 1946, 2010. Digital fibre print mounted on Dibond aluminium. 141.3 × 106.7 cm (55⅝ × 42 in.). Courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York/London and Victoria Miro, London, 2017. © Stan Douglas. ← ix | x →

Figure 8. Stan Douglas, Clown, 1946, 2010. Digital fibre print mounted on Dibond aluminium. 110.8 × 83.8 cm (43⅝ × 33 in.). Courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York/London and Victoria Miro, London, 2017. © Stan Douglas.

Figure 9. Bas Jan Ader, Broken Fall (Organic), 1971. Amsterdamse Bos, Holland, 1971/94. Silver gelatin print. 45.7 × 63.5 cm (18 × 25 in.). Edition of three. © Estate of Bas Jan Ader/Mary Sue Ader Andersen, 2017/The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS UK. Courtesy of Meliksetian|Briggs, Los Angeles.

Figure 10. Bas Jan Ader, Fall II (Amsterdam), 1970. Black and white film still from black and white 16-mm film, silent. Duration: 19 seconds. Edition of three. © Estate of Bas Jan Ader/Mary Sue Ader Andersen, 2017/The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS UK. Courtesy of Meliksetian|Briggs, Los Angeles.

Figure 11. Bas Jan Ader, Fall II (Amsterdam), 1970. Colour production still. © Estate of Bas Jan Ader/Mary Sue Ader Andersen, 2017/The Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS UK. Courtesy of Meliksetian|Briggs, Los Angeles.

Figure 12. Rodney Graham, Vexation Island, 1997. © Rodney Graham. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London, 2017.

Figure 13. Richard Wentworth, Domino, 1984. © Richard Wentworth. All rights reserved, DACS, 2017.

Figure 14. Richard Serra, One-Ton Prop (House of Cards), 1969. Lead antimony. Four plates, 121.9 × 121.9 × 2.5 cm (48 × 48 × 1 in.). © ARS, NY and DACS, London, 2017. Courtesy of Gagosian.

Figure 15. Steve McQueen, Gravesend, 2007. Video still. Image courtesy of the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London, 2017. ← x | xi →

Figure 16. Richard Wilson, Slice of Reality, 2000. Sliced section of an ocean dredger. 21.34 × 10.6 × 8.84 m. North Meadow Sculpture Project, Greenwich Peninsula, London. Photograph courtesy of Richard Wilson.

Figure 17. Richard Wilson, Hang on a Minute Lads … I’ve Got a Great Idea, 2012. Steel frame, plywood, fibreglass, paint, hydraulic pump, electronic timer. 11 × 2.5 × 2.5 m. De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea. Photograph courtesy of Andy Matt.

Figure 18. Salla Tykkä, Airs Above the Ground, 2010. HD video still (7 min, 21 second). © Salla Tykkä. Courtesy of the artist, 2017.

Figure 19. Robert Smithson, Stills from the Spiral Jetty (Panel A), 1970. Black and white silver gelatin prints. Three panels each with twelve photographs. Each panel 26 × 44 mm. Overall 26 × 136 mm. 1970. © Estate of Robert Smithson/DACS, London/VAGA, New York, 2017. 124–

Figure 20. Steve McQueen, Deadpan, 1997. Video still. Image courtesy of the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London, 2017.

Figure 21. Rodney Graham, Torqued Chandelier Release, 2005. © Rodney Graham. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London, 2017.

Figure 22. Rodney Graham, Coruscating Cinnamon Granules, 1996. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, London, 2017. Photography: Kay Riechers.

Figure 23. Stan Douglas, Hair, 1948, 2010. Digital fibre print mounted on Dibond aluminium. 45.7 × 45.1 cm (18 × 17 ¾ in.). Courtesy of the artist, David Zwirner, New York/London and Victoria Miro, London, 2017. © Stan Douglas.

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Acknowledgements

I must first thank my parents, Susan and Graham James, for their love, support, and encouragement during the book’s formation. Without them, this project would never have reached completion. I would also like to convey particular thanks to Dr Kathy Battista, Programme Director for Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s, New York, who has provided so many valuable references and connections to artworks and contemporary artists over the years, enriching the research process incalculably. Special thanks go to Victoria Miguel, whose editorial advice and expertise helped enormously during the closing stages of the book, in addition to the excellent editorial suggestions made by Dr Barbara Penner (Bartlett, UCL).

When I first started thinking about the role of gravity within art and culture as part of my doctoral research at the London Consortium in the late 1990s, I felt quite alone. Nevertheless, I was encouraged by Professor Steven Connor and the late Professor Paul Hirst to pursue this strange field of enquiry. Since my thesis was completed in 2004, a few invitations have arrived for me to speak about my ideas. I would like to thank Dr Anna Dezeuze for her invitation to speak at an international conference Dwelling, Walking, Falling, hosted at University of Manchester in 2009. I would also like to mention Emilyn Claid and Ric Allsopp, who included my article in a special issue, On Falling, in the journal Performance Research (2013). Thanks are due to Dr Davide Deriu (University of Westminster) for an invitation to participate in the symposium Vertigo in the City: Conversations between the Sciences, Arts and Humanities in 2014. These fascinating conversations and experiences have all helped me to feel a little less alone through the research process. Sincere gratitude goes to my former friends and colleagues at the London Consortium for their many insights over the years: Dr Mark Morris, Dr John Tercier, Dr Ruth Adams, Dr Kathy Battista, and Dr Bernard Vere. ← xiii | xiv →

Research for this book was made possible by an award from University of the Arts in London and, in its early stages, through my post as Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Art at Christie’s Education. Being able to travel to museums, galleries and art world events across Europe and to work alongside Dr Mike Ricketts and Dr Peter Higginson stimulated and enriched my research immeasurably. I am also grateful to the many artists and gallery archivists, who have assisted with the image research. Thanks also go to my friends and family for their loving support: Joshua James, Brendan and Suzanne James, Ererton Harrison, Michael Kemp, Charlotte May, Leeann Owens, Bobby Demosthenis, April Gilbin, and Charlie Coomes.

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Summary

This book begins with the observation that contemporary artists have embraced and employed gravity as an immaterial readymade. Necessarily focusing on material practices – chiefly sculpture, installation, performance, and film – this discussion takes account of how and why artists have used gravity and explores the similarities between their work and the popular cultural forms of circus, vaudeville, burlesque, and film.
Works by Rodney Graham, Stan Douglas, and Robert Smithson are mediated through ideas of Gnostic doubt, atomism, and new materialism. In other examples – by John Wood and Paul Harrison, Gordon Matta-Clark, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Trisha Brown, and Bas Jan Ader – mass and momentum, falling objects, and falling bodies are examined in relation to architecture, sculpture, and dance. In performances, projects and events curated by Bruce Nauman, Santiago Sierra, and Catherine Yass, gravity is resisted in Sisyphean ordeals and death-defying stunts.
This account of contemporary art and performance, read through the invisible membrane of gravity, exposes new and distinctive approaches to agency reduction, authorial doubt, and redemptive failure.

Biographical notes

Catherine James (Author)

Catherine James is Lecturer in Academic Practice at University of the Arts London. Since completing her doctoral studies at the London Consortium in 2004, she served as Lecturer in Modern & Contemporary Art at Christie’s Education for many years and has contributed to a variety of conferences and journals related to her research on gravity in art and performance.

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