March 19th, 2009
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in search of that one-tenth of a second

last night I watched the film “here is always somewhere else -the disappearance of bas jan ader”, by rene daalder. for whatever reason I finished the film feeling like I learned nothing of the artist, whose work I have been fascinated with for a while now. if I am to be honest I think there was something lacking in the film itself. watching the trailer gives you the gist of the story (which is completely compelling). and yet there are a couple of thoughts that continue to dance around in my head.
there are many ways to look at ader’s work, he often dealt with the subject of gravity. ways of falling. this is what I love about it. it is absurd, brilliantly simple, and completely serious at the same time. a true experimenter. we all know what it feels like to fall, but how many of us have experimented with gravity as a medium. what does it feel like to throw yourself off balance on purpose?
there is an interview with an old dutch sailor in the film which sums up ader’s work perfectly. he speaks indirectly about the process of improvisation (I am making this connection). that the point of ader’s “falls” is not the falling, but the moment (1/10th of a second) where he makes the decision to let go. that is the moment of transcendence where you leave everything behind and leap into the unknown. as improvisers or experimenters that is the moment we are trying to recreate. because we’ve done it before and it becomes addictive, that seductive release (a sense of giddyness mixed with fear). for an instant you get a feeling that you are really doing something worthwhile, living out on the edge of something big. yet unnamable. a kind of opening (with all the vulnerability that comes with that).
all of the great things I have done in my life have involved this sensation to varying degrees.
watching bas jan ader’s falls, I can’t help but think that he often falls short of the mark. that the falls are a bit too calculated or thought out ahead of time. there is a tad too much self consciousness about them. but it is his attempt to recreate that moment that makes me want to watch them over and over. his need to get back to that place if even for a fleeting fraction of a second, where you hover on the edge of greatness.
above still from “Fall II”, Amsterdam, Bas Jan Ader, 16mm, 19 sec
© 1970, Mary Sue Ader-Andersen

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