Leap into the void: Wim Wenders’ heroes and Yves Klein levitating | CHRISTINA GRAMMATIKOPOULOU

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Yves Klein, Leap into the void, 1960

What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.
Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Berlin. I gaspingly climb up the 285 steps of the Victory Column, wanting to reach the place where the two angels in Wim Wender’s “Wings of Desire” used to meet. As soon as I step into the balcony and take a look at the city from above, my knees bend, my breath ceases: vertigo. I turn my back on the view and embrace the wall, just to feel safe. But the void keeps crying its presence behind my back. Too vast for my mind, too threatening for my body.

What is the void? Usually we tend to identify it with the air that surrounds things, that contains nothing. But is it really empty?

In reality air contains messages -faraway fires, seas, hormones, decomposition, cracks; sometimes we’re aware of them and sometimes they enter our minds subconsciously, as danger signals or erotic callings. Today air is loaded with even more complex information: electromagnetic waves transferring phone calls, satellite images, internet data stream.

In other words, the void is full of meaning and information. But still, it’s hard to map it with our logic or to experience it with our body. So what’s left?

To feel it with art.

The leap into the void is a recurrent theme in Wenders’ films[1]. The angels in “Wings of Desire” and “Faraway, so close!” fly above Berlin -divided in the first film, united in the second- listen to the thoughts of people and record everything. It’s their way of grasping human experience; but it always eludes and surprises them: a driver shouts “Land of fire” in the Zoo station; a man posts rare stamps on his suicide letters; a child stops blinking after listening to a recitation of the Odyssey; inexplicable deeds through the prism of eternity, incorruptness, certainty.

Their desire to feel and to understand becomes urgent, as the words of angel Damiel in “Wings of Desire” reveal:

“Sometimes I get fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above I’d like to feel there’s some weight to me. To end my eternity, and bind myself to earth. At each step, at each gust of wind, I’d like to be able to say: ‘Now! Now! and Now!’ And no longer say: ‘Since always’ and ‘Forever’.”

His perspective changes when he deliberately “falls” and becomes a human. He gets to know heat, cold, colours, love. In contrast, the fall of angel Cassiel in “Faraway, so close!”, which comes about by accident, gets him to the dark side of life: abandonment, pornography, exploitation, violence, marginalization.

Even so, the leap into the void isn’t presented as an act of despair, but as a source of wisdom: experience and knowledge, happiness and despair -life as a whole.

The fall of Tom Tom from the roof of “Million Dollar Hotel” is presented in a similar way. Interestingly enough, when someone leaps into the void they don’t say that he kills himself, but that he “goes aerial” -he becomes one with air, he dematerializes[2]. In contrast to Kassovitz’s heroes[3], what’s important for Tom Tom is not the landing, but the fall. The hero doesn’t passively succumb to the forces of gravity; he runs like an athlete to dive into the void and opens up his arms as if he could fly. The void isn’t empty, but full of information, which Tom Tom perceives as soon as he “goes aerial”. So the leap provides the hero with a new dimension that helps him understand life -right before he loses it.

Tom Tom goes the opposite way from the angels: whereas by leaping into the void they lose a part of their spiritual substance to get to know matter[4], he becomes immaterial and conquers a new spiritual dimension. The void helps Wenders’ heroes to move into another state and understand the world as a whole. The leap into the void is presented as a leap into knowledge, experience, life.

Click on the three images above or on the following links to view videos from Wings of Desire, Faraway So Close and Million Dollar Hotel

The void is the marginal field where counterbalancing forces meet: spirituality and corporeity. Materiality and immateriality.

Everything and nothing.

“First there’s nothing. Then there is a deep nothing, then there is a blue depth”[5]:

Gaston Bachelard’s words colour Yves Klein’s canvases and his sponges, his models’ bodies and the Victory of Samothrace with a uniform blue, I.K.B. (International Klein Blue). Klein, after being initiated to the Japanese philosophy, which considers the void as one of the basic elements of the world -alongside with water, fire, earth and air- incorporates it into his art as basic expressive means. But it remains elusive. He dreams of seas, fields, nuclear explosions, the entire surface of France being painted blue, I.K.B. But still the void escapes him.

Initially he tries to conquer it by subtracting content from form: painting without lines, then without colour, afterwards the canvas is missing, even paintings as objects. He gets to present an exhibition where the gallery space is left empty, so that the viewers get to face the void. Like an alchemist he manages to make gold out of nothing: he sells to some collectors seven “Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility”, that is, absolutely nothing in exchange for gold; he then destroys the receipts and scatters the gold, so that he returns back to nothing.

But the void remains vast and unexplored. He proposes a theatre without a play, with the doors closed and the actors without roles, he writes music with one note and symphonies without sound, he organises an entire Festival of the Void and propagates it through a special edition in the form of a newspaper; on the front page a photomontage of Klein himself leaping into the void.

“The painter of space leaps into the void!” reads the title, and underneath Klein’s statement: “I am the painter of space. I am not an abstract painter but, on the contrary, a figurative artist, and a realist. Let us be honest, to paint space, I must be in position. I must be in space”[6].

Somehow he made it; instead of falling down, he remained hovering in an image that contains all the dynamic of leaping into the void. Defying the laws of physics, he stayed forever levitating in a fake photo. Klein’s leap into the void becomes the symbol of the artist’s brave effort to get to know to the world and to transform it as a whole.

The landing doesn’t matter here either[7]; what matters is the leap or levitation into the void -and whatever kind of experience or knowledge comes out of it.

Inside my mind the voice of the void has smoothened already.

The colour Ι.Κ.Β.


Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire), dir.: Wim Wenders, 1987
In weiter ferne, so nah! (Faraway, so close!), dir.: Wim Wenders, 1993
Million Dollar Hotel, dir.: Wim Wenders, 2000
Yves Klein: La révolution bleue (The blue revolution), dir.: François Levy-Kuentz, 2006


[1] Victor da Rosa, “Un único angel”, Interartive #3, October 2008.

[2] Monika Bakke, “Air is information”, in: Monika Bakke (ed.), Going aerial, Air, art, architecture, Maastricht, 2006, p.10.

[3] The idea recurring in Mathieu Kassovitz’s film “La haine” (The hate, 1995) is «l’important, c’est pas la chute c’est l’atterrissage», which means «what’s important is not the fall, but the landing».

[4] Eric Mader-Lin, “Angels and the Modern City”, http://www.wim-wenders.com/news_reel/2003/jun-angels-and-the-modern-city.htm

[5] Gaston Bachelard, Air and dreams, Dallas 1988, p.168. Yves Klein was deeply affected by this book.

[6] Yves Klein, Overcoming the problematics of art: The writings of Yves Klein, Putnam 2007, p.106.

[7] The “landing” comes about in 1996, through a photograph by another artist, Pierre Yves Clouin entitled “Yves Clein comes to rest, June 6th 1962” (it is actually the date of Klein’s death), where you see a man falling on the road.