Thursday, April 23, 2009

Look Up!

It is typical urban behavior to keep one's eyes on the ground; whether rushing down subway steps or hurrying past tourists, city dwellers often prefer a view of pavement to potential eye contact. I'm guilty of this but am often rewarded when I do look up—by the Chrysler Building's crown glinting in the sun or the blossoms finally bursting on the trees or someone smiling at me (or these days, usually smiling at my expectant belly).

Philippe Petit is a master of getting people to look up. In 1974 he walked a high wire between the Twin Towers, an event documented in Man on Wire. Adeet and I recently saw a benefit screening of the film at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, followed by a question-and-answer session with Petit. Petit's dynamic character is evident in the documentary, but in person he's even more charismatic. He took several minutes to answer each question, his enthusiasm never flagging, and he ended the evening by balancing flowers on the tip of his nose. 

More than one person asked him how it feels to be so close to death when he's on the high wire. He scoffed, "You Americans have a death wish!" and asserted, "I have a life wish!" He claimed he doesn't think about dying when he's wire walking and distanced himself from "daredevils" who scale tall buildings for the mere stunt of it. To him, they're interested only in the death-defying aspect of their work and have no artistry. Petit emphasized that he views his wire walking as an art. When he's on the wire, he wants people to look up and feel inspired. It's poetry, not a circus trick. 

He has plans for another wire walk in Manhattan this fall. It will benefit literacy and various writers will read under the wire while he's walking. When asked where it will be, he responded coyly, "You all know libraries are associated with literacy, so where do you think?" Chances are good it will be in Bryant Park this October, so look up! You might see an artist on wire.

Man on Wire with Philippe Petit • April 15, 2009
The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine
New York, NY

photos by Adeet Deshmukh


sandhya said...

I saw a listing for this event too late. Glad to have read about it here!

Queens Council said...

I am so glad to get the chance to hear more from Philipe. The movie was so beautiful, how about the moment when the Police officer who took Philipe down said "I realized this is probably something I will never see before in my life," blew me away.
Anyway sorry for rambling I just love these people who are straight of Werner Herzog films. I learn so much from them. great post

David Bromley
Queens Art Express