June 16, 2010

Open Focus with Philippe Petite, Man on Wire

from left to rightOn Monday night, a few of us from Tricycle headed over to the Rubin Museum to attend an interview with high wire walker Philippe Petit, conducted by photographer Tom Wool. Wool's photographs of Tibet's Rongbuk Valley are being shown at the Rubin in an exhibit entitled "In the Shadow of Everest." The photos are breathtaking portraits of a remote part of the world---portraits of young school boys, Buddhist nuns and monks meditating, and the contents of his guide's pocket which included a half-dozen photos of the Dalai Lama, an image forbidden in the area.

With Wool's striking photographs of the Rongbuk Valley projected behind them, the two artists entered into an inspiring conversation about their lives and work. To watch Philippe Petite speak is to watch him perform---by the end of the evening he had pulled several props from his pockets, doing an improptu card trick and later displaying a short cord of string he always carries with him in case he needs to imagine connecting two structures with a tight rope. Petite has high wire walked between the pylons of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the towers of Notre Dame in Paris, and most famously, between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center (as seen above)---an event that became the centerpiece of the Oscar-winning film Man on Wire.

The two-hour conversation ranged from high wire walking, to fear, to religion, to what Petit called "the theater of life." My favorite moment came when Petite described his state of mind while he's balancing precariously, sometimes thousands of feet above ground, on his tight rope:

It is a moment where the universe does not exist and at the same time, I am completely open. I am listening and I smell and I hear...I let those things come but I don't let the thought of 'What am I having for dinner?' enter...I call it 'Open Focus.'"

At the end of the evening Tim McHenry, producer of the Rubin Museum, presented both the two artists and adventurers with a kata---a white ceremonial scarf used as a blessing in Tibetan Buddhism. Maybe Petite will wear his on his next sky-high walk.

Photo of Petite walking between Twin Towers © www.buninyong.vic.au
Photo of Rubin Museum event © Sam Mowe. From left to right: Tim McHenry of the Rubin Museum, Philippe Petite, and Tom Wool.

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