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The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Faller

Jimmy Hoffa was not the only disappearing act of 1975

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by Henderson Downing, for outsideleft.com
originally published: May, 2006
Ader went AWOL somewhere between Cape Cod and Cornwall

Forget the secret burial of the body in the Giants Stadium. The FBI have flown in a crack team of corpse dogs and forensic archaeologists to dig for human bones on the Hidden Dreams horse farm in Michigan. Agents have demolished the Red Barn after a tip-off from an incarcerated dope-trafficker. Events have quickly mutated into some kind of media happening from what initially sounded like a tall tale spun by Tom Waits. But there's still no sign of Jimmy Hoffa's remains.

Hoffa was not the only public figure to vanish in the summer of 1975. Trying to cross the Atlantic single-handed in a pocket cruiser named the Ocean Wave, Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader disappeared the same July as Hoffa. The transatlantic crossing was the second part of an artwork entitled 'In Search of the Miraculous'. Ader went AWOL somewhere between Cape Cod and Cornwall. The remains of his work are currently being excavated at the Camden Arts Centre in London.

For me, Ader has come to be known as the Faller. I like the Faller. My friends like the Faller. The six-year old boy sitting on the gallery floor likes the Faller. He thinks it's cool when the Faller falls. He says so loudly, chuckling at each silent splash or thud on the scratchy screen where the Faller's films are projected. Sometimes the Faller does other stuff too. But, it's still about falling. All is falling. That's what the exhibition is called: All is Falling. As a solo exhibition, there's hardly enough material to fill the rooms. And that's the fault of the curators and not the Faller. Even though the performative nature of the Faller's work means that material documentation usually comes in two-dimensional physical form, the inadequate way that the exhibition has been arranged seems to indicate an ongoing reluctance to exert any creativity at Camden Arts Centre beyond the caf?© (where the waitress's ingenious hand-held dispenser left a pointillist coffee-cup shaped trail of chocolate on the top of my cappuccino).

Still, I like those black-and-white photographs of the Faller's nocturnal drift through LA. On each image the Faller has scrawled part of the lyrics to Searchin' by The Coasters. The Faller spent almost all of his short adult life in and around southern California, studying philosophy, teaching art, and creating moments of insane physical poetry from both disciplines. Mixing a tragicomic version of West Coast minimalism with a rich aesthetic lineage that runs from the Dutch chapter of the Old Masters to Mondrian, the Faller fused the slapstick to the sublime. A photograph of the entire contents of his wardrobe scattered on a Californian rooftop becomes an evasive self-portrait, an indirect nude that's simultaneously a snapshot of imminent flight. And who can't smile at the series of photographs that show him having tea under a tea-chest-on-a-pole trap that eventually falls down, presumably sealing him inside?

There are patience-testing longueurs too. The little boy in the gallery gets almost as restless as I do when we watch extended footage of the Faller's face in close-up trying to make himself cry or when he spends half-an-hour filming himself painstakingly rearranging primary-coloured flowers in a vase. But if you turn around to another screen, sooner or later he falls again. From a tree this time? Or off the roof? Or maybe even into the canal on his bike? Stark verticality. That's the Faller. Tall, willowy, dressed in mime artist black top and trousers, he resembles a 1970s childrens TV presenter on a diet of Artaud and quality acid. The Faller knows we're never completely in control. Gravity becomes literally riveting in his work. The Faller accelerates the process. A moment of tension and then . . . oops, there he goes, falling, falling, falling.

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Henderson Downing

Henderson Downing has written for various literary journals and small press magazines, he lives in London

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