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Taking explorations of balance, stability, and flexibility beyond their obvious physiological realms. IG: @okayserasera

May 6, 2015

- Guest Post By Russell Phetteplace -

Ephemeral Bridges: The Highline as Art

Written By Russell Phetteplace

[ See Original Post Here ]

Art by Andy Goldsworthy

Art by Andy Goldsworthy

            For seven years now, the highline has been a central pillar in my life. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked why I would do such a thing, and while my natural response has always been ‘why wouldn’t I?’ the question always persists in my head. Surely fun, friendship, and excitement play into why I highline, but there is more; the highline and everything it represents have created deep, inextricable roots in my very identity. Still the question persists- Why do I highline?


            To delve into this question requires yet another question. What is a highline? A highline transforms empty space into a new medium- one we can manipulate freely through focus and body awareness. The processes of rigging and walking a line are acts of creation. Creating manipulable space where none existed, creating balance in that space, and thus creating new channels of possibility. A highline is not simply a sport. It is expression. For me, highline is art.


            But if a highline is to be seen as art, what is produced? Certainly some amazing photography and film has issued forth from it, but with utmost respect to the many talented highline photographers, there is something else that can only be experienced in or in the presence of the act. When a highline has been walked, we de-rig, pack up the gear and take it home, both literally and figuratively. The sun goes down, and nature soon forgets. So if a highline is to be seen as art, what is created? Comparing highlining to another kind of ephemeral art can elucidate this question.


            Andy Goldsworthy is a key creator of ephemeral art. Using only what he finds in nature, he builds remarkable art pieces in the environment. He arranges intricate frameworks of driftwood on shores, only to have them swept away by the high tide. A giant star is built overnight out of icicles and saliva, only to collapse under the first rays of morning light. Goldsworthy’s art is transient, ephemeral. It brings to visual life the words of Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold can Stay.” His art is reflective of the traditional sweeping away of Buddhist sand mandalas into running water. A highline embodies this same form of expression.


            A highliner begins to see gaps in space differently from others. Bridges of potential spring from the void for our eyes alone. This change in perspective of reality is another strong piece of evidence for the aesthetic dimension of highlining. Every time I finish derigging a highline, I cannot help but stare back at the space left behind. Nature immediately reclaims it as her own. The possibility ceases, however the non-being of the slackline can still be sensed.


            The aesthetic dimension of the highline is twofold. First, there is the creation and destruction of the line itself. This represents the form. Within the form comes the second element — the highliner. The highliner lends expression to the form of the highline. 


Russ Walking the line at Mt. Tam, CA. ~120'

Russ Walking the line at Mt. Tam, CA. ~120'

            The form of the expression created by the highliner is manifold. Tying in (or not) forms resolve. Standing up realizes a purity of freedom in the face of what seems impossible. Every step recites a litany against fear. Falling can crush upon the highliner in a moment of despair. In rare instances, the gravity of the highline falls away, and the highliner is left with serenity, sometimes to be quickly swept away by a wave of uncertainty. Finally upon stepping off, the highliner is washed over with the culmination of all of these feelings and expressions resonating throughout their being. 


And so we are left with a form of expression grounded in impermanence. This is the heart of the slackline life. We come from all parts of the world to share in the creation of something high and beautiful. We fill that space with joy, determination, resolve, and the entire spectrum of human pathos- until dusk settles and we destroy it, knowing we have shared in something sublime that cannot be recreated. We return to our homes, our vans, our routine, only to set out again with new configurations from our massive slackline family, we chase new dawns on our infinite slackline horizon.

Russell Phetteplace


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