This talk compares two high-wire walks, each made between two towers that no longer exist, and each drawn by the simplest architectural device – a line that connects the two buildings and signifies the desire to walk between them. Famously, one – between the World Trade Centre towers – was the result of a self-organised ‘coup’ and years of planning by Philippe Petit and his band of accomplices, and the other High Wire at Red Road flats in Glasgow, an Artangel commission created by Catherine Yass and performed by Didier Pasquette. High Wire was realized in the manner of an architectural project, with distinct roles for ‘designer’, engineers, performer, the use of abstracted orthographic drawings and calculations, and full risk compliance. Petit’s team pooled resources between themselves, de-greasing their own wire, modelling and erecting the rigging outside the law.
Writing in the catalogue for High Wire, Yass describes her artwork as ‘a dream of walking in the air, out into nothing.’ The space between the towers is understood as a void. For the feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray, in her close reading of Heidegger’s work, to render air only as vacuum, void or space in contrast to the solid matter of the ground is to forget the materiality of air, the very element, she proposes, that enables Being and all of life, and is shared by all. For Irigaray, materiality should not only be ascribed to what is solid, but also to that which separates and puts into relation. Recalling stepping out over the parapet in To Reach the Clouds (2003), Petit notices, conversely that, ‘all of a sudden, the density of air is no longer the same.’ For Petit, the space between the towers has density, it too is material, not ‘nothing’. This talk will ask to what extent the vertiginous fear of the void is predicated on already understanding and producing it as such?
Dr Katie Lloyd Thomas is a Lecturer in Architecture at Newcastle University, where she co-directs ARC, the Architecture Research Collaborative, and is an editor of the international journal arq. Her research is concerned with materiality in architecture and with feminist practice and theory. She is co-founder of the feminist collective taking place and edited Material Matters (Routledge, 2007). Her monograph Preliminary Operations: Material theory and the Architectural Specification is in preparation.