Hilarious Contraption

Yves Klein, ‘Leap Into the Void’, 1960

 

The picture shows a man leaping from a second-floor window. It doesn’t seem too high to land without injury, if he jumps feet first. But that exuberant swan dive, head up, arms outstretched, defies gravity the way some carnivals have people jump off piers in hilarious contraptions: gliders, bicycles, bathtubs, cartons. He has the same beatific expression as those contestants before they hit the water.  Formal shirt cuffs suggest ceremony rather than stunt.  Some months before this photo was taken, in the same neighbourhood, my father found lodgings in a house where the landlady asked her tenants kindly not to commit suicide by leaping from the windows. These days, of course, we prefer to see the second photograph, the one that makes it happen, that denies the void. Eight men straining to hold a tarpaulin taut, a photographer crouched beside them focused on the falling figure, the man on the bicycle who will appear to be riding by in the first photograph, like the ship in Breugel’s Icarus, circling nearby to await his turn.

Quadrant (forthcoming)