Bas Jan Ader
The Comic God
Sketching on Chance
Drawing Distance
Observing the Wrong Bodies

«Love you will find only where you may show yourself weak without provoking strength» Theodor W. Adorno

There is a film by Bas Jan Ader, made in the back of his Los Angeles house. Above a high, pitched roof, a man is seated in a chair. At first he slowly leans forward, then he lets himself fall, tumbling down the roof onto a bush, while his shoe is projected away from him and the chair dangles and stops on a weatherboard.
The house is of archetypical suburban design, with a porch, high chimney and large garden. The film is 16mm black and white, extending the horizon of references from Buster Keaton to the home made family film – one reference speaking of resistance against gravity, the other one occupied with minor accidents, the passage of time and returning home.
The Homeric story of returning home is always close to the humble city man with a dog waiting for him at the end of the day – and these stories appear in a condensed form in Bas Jan Ader’s last work – an ocean crossing in a small boat that was lost at sea.
In Fall 1 the action is even more economical. A man gives up an eccentric position in favour of becoming a subject of gravity – he lets himself fall, without apparent motive or empathic references, simply obeying a process sparked by an idea. The procedure is so simple that it can be described in the command «a man sitting on top of a roof lets himself fall». It is in the distance between this economical gesture and what could be read as tragedy that the work exists. Both the figures of the tragic and the romantic hero are recuperated where they were unexpected – in the repositioning of the artist in a conceptual field of art. The ghost of the sacrificial artist, so distant from contemporary sensibility, is used as motif and example – allowing the spectator to reflect on his expectations and relationship to the tragic and romantic figures that are so pervasive in popular film and culture.
The economy of means and the schematic nature of the actions forbid a purely empathic or compassionate relationship with Ader’s works. Suffering only has weight because it is presented as scheme or strategy. Reduced to an idea of fall, the action in Fall 1 bridges the mechanical accident or experiment and the homely, and bridges also the notions of gravity and grace. There is an imaginary physics in Simone Weil’s descriptions of the ascending movement of grace and of the pernicious, downward movement of gravity (a force that tended to human power as opposed to the world of spirit). Bas Jan Ader uses gravity as a way to tentatively conceive a form of grace. When he falls there is an ascending movement of attention – an attention that sees its own weakness.


Francisco Sousa Lobo                                                                  London, 2010