Skydiving Art

This article was published in the August – September 2018 issue of Canpara, the magazine for the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association. This is the unedited version of the text.

I have been making connections between my life as an artist and as a skydiver my whole life. I started jumping at Gananoque in 1979, while studying sciences at Queen’s university. The sciences didn’t stick, but I soon found myself at art school in 1981. A year of art school cost $237.50, and skydiving was 1$ per 1000 feet. I still couldn’t afford both at the same time, it was more of a sequential thing.


Trying to find ways of capturing something about skydiving that a non-skydiving audience would appreciate is a big challenge. There is a particular aesthetic to images of skydiving that we share amongst ourselves. When we see a great image of a formation, we don’t need to say why this is beautiful, because we were there, and understand that moment of connection, and the challenges of staying calm while the wind blasts away at our concentration. But for someone who wasn’t there, much of what makes the experience interesting to us is not communicated through the still image or video clip.


It’s all in the details. Art audiences are sensitive to details, materials, timing. I made a work called Liquid Face, which is a slow motion video close up of my face rippling in freefall. It’s funny, because so much of what’s happening is out of my control. Nostrils inflate, my skin looks like it’s about to be ripped off, it’s hilarious! The piece succeeds in showing the force of a terminal velocity wind and what that does to the human body.


As I write, I am preparing an exhibition called 47 Storeys. It is a collaboration with the artist Monique Moumblow and will be shown in Montreal at galerie Optica, an artist-run centre that presents experimental art works.


22 years ago, I jumped from a building with no camera or ground crew. I didn’t want to have anyone to answer to if I chickened out or couldn’t do it for some reason. I didn’t even want the idea of an audience in my head, so no camera. A bit on the crazy side, especially as I jumped with my regular skydiving rig, an SST Racer. I did add a tail pocket and a larger pilot chute to my 7 cell Raven II (with at least 700 jumps on it). It was a personal challenge. I had made the decision to be happy as a single person, and wanted to do things that would make me happy. Jumping from a cliff was my first choice, but there wasn’t one close by so I chose a building and jumped from it in the middle of the night. Very scary, and very satisfying.


I started telling a few people and I could see that the story really captured people’s imaginations, so I told it again. And again. The story lives on in the memories of my friends and a few second and third hand retellings. I have very little idea of just how far it spread. I didn’t want to forget any details, so I told the story to a video camera.


20 years later, Monique asked if I could tell the story to the camera. She has an interest in poetic duplication, and was interested in how much it changed between each retelling. I told her that I had made a video 20 years earlier and her eyes lit up. We would shoot the video again, and try to match the first video exactly, word for word, gesture for gesture, all the stammering, everything. Acting myself was harder than I thought. The result is an artwork that is as much about the story of the jump as it is a reflection on how we remember, how we age and our relationship to technology.


The exhibition begins September 7th and will end on October 20th, 2018 at 4pm with a retelling of my jump from a downtown Montreal building.


3, 2, 1 C ya


Galerie Optica is located at 5445 de Gaspé #106 in Montreal. H2T 3B2.

Paul Litherland’s artworks are here: