THE MIRACLE OF WALKING

ON GAPS & TIGHTROPES IN CREATIVE PRACTICE

Creative Practice
Petit begins his walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center Photograph by Jean-Louis Blondeau, Aug 7th, 1974

ESSAY

By Sophie Cope

There’s a gap between inner and outer landscapes that can sometimes be threaded with sentences, or clay, or walking in the dark. The pieces of the thread are known to us – we know each word, we know where clay comes from, we know how to walk. And yet, as it is stitched, it becomes something else. Unconsenting, it stretches far ahead. The rhythm of the words is its own kind of tightrope – its own river – and we don’t know where it’s going, and we’re in it. The creative act is threaded through a great precariousness – a canyon of the ordinary, reconstellated. Maybe both a terror and a miracle. It’s the things in the world very close to us that have a way of flipping into the fog.

In 1974, Philippe Petit walked on a highwire line between the Twin Towers, 400m above the ground. He sat down and lay down and walked back and forth eight times. He walked back and forth. I think of walking. I know how to close my eyes and walk. The profound ordinariness of walking was transformed, in Petit’s case, when paired with the very real imminence of falling. The drop below the wire is the thing that gave him the miracle of walking, as if for the first time. The miracle of walking. I think of this. If we were to bring the ground up to the level of the man on the wire – pave up the gap, sterilise the risk of it – the miracle would vanish. The walking would just be walking. And so, in creative practice, in the words it takes to cross this page, the path is precarious. Still. It threads me back and forth and never knots up the ending. But then – fingers in the fog ahead, walking like this – it seems inevitable. The I-don’t-know canyon is also a runway or a crucible or a loom for living.

‘The creative act is threaded through a great precariousness – a canyon of the ordinary, reconstellated. Maybe both a terror and a miracle.’

Petit before crossing the void, World Trade Center, New York, 7th August, 1974

When I was 15, I wrote to the graphic novelist Paul Madonna, and spoke about a void that I felt I could only fill by making things. The hope was that one day I would fill the void up. The artist replied to me with words that are also, in more than one sense, describing creative practice in terms of its gaps and its tightropes:

For me, making art and getting it beyond me to others, is a key to filling those holes that I sense you experience. There’s never any completely filling them, and there shouldn’t be. They are what makes life life. It’s the pursuit of peering in, of backing away, of tossing anything in, of regarding it with awe and cursing it with spite, of ignoring it completely and then weeping at is edge, its remembering that it’s a mirror in which you should appreciate all that you do have, and the continual effort you give, in making, caring, and trying, that will get you through everything and anything. So keep working. 

– Paul Madonna, 2013

‘If we were to bring the ground up to the level of the man on the wire – pave up the gap, sterilise the risk of it – the miracle would vanish.’

Petit between the Twin Towers, 400m above the ground, 7th August, 1974

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