As I watched footage of Paul Litherland’s “near miss” during his first BASE jump in a squirrel suit, I thought to myself, “that’s enough to stop anyone from BASE jumping”.
Then, the very next clip showed him ready to make the jump again.
It is hard for me to believe that Litherland, a photographer and multi-media performance artist, struggles with fear because he faces it regularly in his favourite pastimes, skydiving and BASE jumping.
However, he makes it clear that addressing fear is the “force majeur” behind his artistic process.
Contemplate control and laze under views of falling people at “Force Majeur”, taking place the ODD Gallery until April 13 – IMAGES: Paul Litherland/Valérie Pelletier
During his artist’s talk held in Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture (KIAC) on March 8, Litherlandexplained his initial fear associated with BASE jumping.
“I was at the edge of the skyscraper ready to jump, and then I froze. I wasn’t sure what I was afraid of,” he said.
“I had gotten over the fear of death a while ago, so I couldn’t figure it out”.
Litherland’s current exhibition at the ODD Gallery in Dawson City is a video installation piece. The show, called “Force Majeur”, is a French connection to L’espace Aerodium, which is the outdoor wind tunnel in Montreal where the footage for this piece was taken.
The installation is a simple set-up of five flat-screen TVs attached to the ceiling and facing towards the floor. Two large, wooden lawn chairs are situated in the centre of the room.
The viewers are invited to recline in the lawn chairs and gaze up at the TV screens—the light cast down from the TVs is a welcome glow after the dark months of winter in this northern community.
The ovoid space of the exhibition is created with a heavy, black curtain that the viewer has to push through to experience the work, creating an alternate space to the rest of the gallery.
Litherland’s installation alludes to the experience of skydiving in an indirect and tasteful way. Each TV screen shows a unique, yet cohesive, blue sky with fluffy white clouds. Video of people free-falling through the sky-scape plays intermittently.
These people seem unaware of their roles as “skydivers” and they are dressed in completely irrelevant attire, pertinent only to the personas they maintain throughout the fall.
One man wears a clean business suit as if he’s on his way to work, while an elderly man flies through the air in long underwear. Another woman puts on lipstick in mid-fall.
The personas have calm facial expressions and are relatively unreactive to the engaging environment of the wind tunnel.
At times, these images of people play in synchrony with percussion-based music. Sometimes the soundtrack plays without the imagery of free-fallers at all, prompting the viewer to search each screen for the appearance of new subjects.
The effect of this music without the appearance of skydivers further engages the viewer by keeping them attentive during periods where little action appears on the screens.
In the videos, the free-falling people are sometimes held up evenly by the column of air, but sometimes they fall unexpectedly as they exit the wind tunnel.
The way Litherland has set-up and documented this unexpected loss of physical control parallels the loss of control we experience through circumstance in our lives—the only control we really have during unexpected times of change is the way we react to the situation.
Litherland’s personas respond calmly to their unusual environments and sudden fluctuations in gravity, offering something we can learn from—to take life’s falls in stride.
“Force Majeur” runs from March 8 until April 13.