Philippe Petit

By: Alix Lambert
August 13, 2010

If ever there was an exquisite marriage between crime and art, PHILIPPE PETIT (born 1949)’s wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center was it. In 1974, Petit walked from tower to tower some eight to ten times, depending on who is doing the telling. Although he has traversed a number of famous buildings during the span (sorry) of his career, including Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, the World Trade Center was his greatest challenge. Petit’s high-wire act was a distant cousin to graffiti art, but it was more lyrical to look at and more daring, both for its physical danger and its bold execution — under cover of sun rather than moon. It brings to mind Vito Acconci’s Seed Bed, or Chris Burden’s Shoot, other examples of ephemeral ’70s performance art. The coming together of the forbidden and the impossible into a simple gesture; standing, lying down on the wire, lifting a foot just so without dying; it makes my heart skip a beat, which I suppose is what I look for in art, some recognition of my mortality. The fact that the WTC was itself fleeting in its existence, and the horrible memory of how it fell, has lent the images of this particular wire walk a whole second layer of context and meaning. “Seemingly, I’m crazy — a suicidal maniac. But you have to enter my world,” Petit has said. I’m in. He had me at crazy.

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Alfred Hitchcock.

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  1. Planned only in the sense that one might string a wire and walk a tenuous thread from birthday to birthday, in the dangerous yet artistic performance of a life — it’s PP’s birthday today : )

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