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Falling for Gravity

Invisible Forces in Contemporary Art

Catherine James

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.

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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...

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