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Daniel Gordon and the Dream of Flying

Who among us has never dreamt of flying? Can we fault anyone for having this dream? Should not everyone be granted it?

Daniel Gordon, Untitled, 2001, c-print, 20

We are speaking here of the Dream of Flying, not the Actual Realization of Flight. The two are completely distinct, even if historically linked by cause and effect. No, they are different things, and to my mind, usually something changes once you’ve had the dream and then gone on and figured out how to defy gravity. Usually, something is lost in the transition.

For instance, the Wright Brothers dreamt of flying and then achieved the invention of the airplane, after much trial and error. They were so scientific, pragmatic and goal-oriented, so they are losers in our scheme. And recently, that fellow who was the first civilian to purchase a ride on the space shuttle — well, how can anyone fail to see that he is hopelessly banal? He’s out.

On the other hand, everyone who has employed the mind and imagination to project a workable representation of flight onto closed eyelids is definitely in, in, in. And anyone who has accidentally committed suicide jumping off a building because they believed they could fly unaided is a True Dreamer, as well.

Daniel Gordon, Untitled, 2001, c-print, 20

In its cell form, the Dream of Flying is any individual’s authentic and original urge to leave the surface of the planet. Some fundamental principles follow: 1) It is possible to have actually flown without ever having had the Dream of Flying. For instance, if you think flying isn’t a big deal because you travel for business all the time, or, like Superman, if you just take flying for granted and thus never dream of it. 2) The Dream need not be acted upon physically to be real. 3) The origin of the Dream in people would seem to rely in no way on the invention of flying machines. Indeed, if external stimuli were required to plant the seed of this Dream in the minds of certain dullards, then insects, birds and bats would surely suffice. 4) It follows then, that anyone in the past or present age, pre- or post-Wright Bros., is fully entitled to the Dream of Flying in its pure state. The carnal desire for the sky that underlies the Dream has not been dispatched by the historical Actual Realization of Flight. Certain changes in the future may alter this state of affairs, but hopefully we’ll manage to leave that problem to our children.

We have given some initial preference here to the Dream of Flying versus Actual Realization of Flight. But within this scheme we must be gray and allow for gray areas — people who dream and do and remain lovable. The young Nikola Tesla dreamt of flying and then tried, hyperventilating himself into a tizzy before jumping off a barn with an umbrella. He makes the cut by virtue of gorgeous delusion and sculptural/painterly injury to self. And that brilliant lunatic in California (once championed by the Good/Bad Art Collective) who hooked up his lawn chair to weather balloons gets the nod, for sure. Both of these men were clever enough to have the Dream of Flying, make brazen attempts (failed and successful, respectively) at Actual Realization of Flight, and yet never lose a certain feeling for poetry. Bravo!

Daniel Gordon, Untitled, 2001, c-print, 20

Daniel Gordon would seem to seek membership in the Gray Area True Dreamers Club with his first show at Angstrom Gallery in Dallas. Like Tesla, Gordon both dreams of and does a sort of flying. Over a period of years he has used his tumbling skills to leap unaided from the surface of the earth, capturing these launches with a motor-drive camera. And like Tesla’s, Gordon’s escapade has led to worthy bodily injury, including a broken rib and a ruptured appendix: marks of his dedication to the Dream.

The exhibition at Angstrom is a selection of only four color and three black and white photographs culled from the hundreds Gordon has produced. Each of the seven photographs on view shows Gordon in mid-air, a lone figure in tights, paired with landscape backdrops, the roof of a suburban home, a small private airport, a barn, a water tower, a campus building, etc. So it is clear that Gordon understands photography’s usefulness to an unaided flyer. It is a means of sustained flight in the realm of representation.

It is also clear that Gordon is grappling seriously with principle four, above, that everyone is entitled to the Dream of Flying. Quite brilliantly he chooses to express the truth in this principle in a way that might at first seem unoriginal — by way of overt flirtation with the example of Yves Klein, specifically Harry Shunk’s trick photograph of Klein known as Leap into the Void.

Yves Klein, Sant dans le Vide (Leap into the Void), 1960...silver gelatin print, 350 x 270mm...photograph by Harry Shunk

Now, it is difficult not to love Klein if you dream of flying. He is a most important figure in the tradition, a Grand Master of the Dream, a man with flair who added metaphysical dimension to the whole party. The Shunk photo is the source of Gordon’s idea (though Gordon expands on Klein in several ways that we can leave to individual viewers to decipher), and to sense a bit of homage to Klein is probably to be on the right track. But is this really homage or something more?

The key to this question is that Klein himself chose one of the most primordial ways to express the Dream of Flying — the simple leap, propelled by what force the legs and up-swinging arms can provide. Klein’s use of double-exposure to create Leap into the Void, which erased the cushion that actually broke his fall, heightens rather than lessens the effect of directness. Despite the doctoring, Klein’s image is never in danger of triggering too much disbelief. Instead it triggers oodles of suspense, concern, adoration and longing. It’s poetry of sheer directness and desire for the mind and the gut.

Because his gesture is primordial, Klein’s leap is his in one way, and in another way it is not his at all. After all, leaping is to the Dream of Flying what the first breath is to the newborn, an action that belongs to no one and to everyone who lives. So Gordon can go on without shame, indulging the basic urge to leap and employing the most basic means of capturing the action, just like Klein did. Just like you or I could. It is a refreshing practice.

Someone famous once said that plagiarism is necessary, that progress implies it, that we should take what is good in old ideas and adapt them to present circumstances. With that in mind, Gordon has found a few new lines of poetry in the old Dream of Flying, and found his way into the Gray Area Club.

Jeff Dalton is a writer living in Dallas, Texas.

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