David Blaine, Above the Below

Review in Issue 15-4 | Winter 2003

But is it art? And who decides - artist/enactor, audience/witness or critic/commentator? David Blaine's stay in his Perspex box-on view 24 hours a day, living without food for 44 days - will no doubt become another seminal 'performative' event for the academics to chew over.

That aside, the publicly enacted and witnessed demonstration of physical endurance has always been a part of our shared cultural experience - and a vital aspect of showbiz - from the mystic's bed of nails to the fairground showman's fire eating or skin stretching

When I went to see David Blaine, there was no intention of viewing this as an artwork or indeed of reviewing it for this magazine, just the usual 'going to the zoo' curiosity. But when I got there what I found was theatre, pure and simple. Despite (maybe because of the kitsch and schmaltz, being there is profoundly moving, Life imitates art in the Gillian Wearing hand-lettered cards held up to the sky: 'If you feel weak we will give you strength'; 'Keep the faith David': "You're a star - keep on shining'. A bunch of busking students in silly hats sing 'a ring-ding-ding-ding-dong endlessly, with an occasional shout of 'all the money goes to the world's hungry. There's a Mister Softee ice cream van, and a bagel bar a stone's throw away. And above it all, the holy actor who, to paraphrase Grotowski, sacrifices himself for us. Yes, I was brought up as a Roman Catholic - 50 maybe I'm pre disposed towards this sort of communion'.

A shared experience, a ntual, an act enacted and witnesses moved to re-evaluate basic presumptions about themselves and the human condition. I didn't expect to be profoundly moved but was.

Presenting Artists

Tower Bridge

Date Seen
  1. Aug 2003

This article in the magazine

Issue 15-4
p. 29