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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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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.

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