Nothing is safe – even objects traditionally associated with comfort and security can become lethal domestic bombs when that is the intention. We threw an armchair from the top of a hundred foot cliff on the afternoon of 9/11 in order to observe on film the moment in time when the chair became that lethal weapon.
On the 11th September this year Gimpo Jimmy and me threw this armchair from the top of the cliffs at Eastbourne and filmed the falling so we could observe the moment in time when a chair becomes a lethal domestic weapon. A moment in time when comfort becomes profoundly uncomfortable.
The date was poignant. For weeks the media had been churning out images of the twin towers. The most powerful one for me was that of suits falling through blue skies. It was too much to consider that these suits were in fact real people falling to their death. Clothes that were designed to protect and comfort had become aerial body bags
Chairs are are similarly designed to comfort and embrace you. Chairs are where you rest and dream. Every chair has a story and carries the indentations and the smells and stains of those that lazed in them. To question the nature and true expense of our own comfort from time to time is not a bad thing.
In 2003 Jimmy and I met up in LA – he from London and me from New Zealand. We hired a car and drove up to Death Valley in Nevada On the side of the road we found an abandoned refrigerator and buried it beneath the shadows of Zabriski Point. We were both in the process of deconstructing our nuclear families and that lone fridge seemed symbolic of all things that had become domestic and suffocating in our lives
Armchair destructivism was a slow and gradual development from that time. He composed images and I pulled chairs apart and then rebuilt them in ways that subverted the idea of comfort. Real and imagined it came to fruition the day we threw the chair from the cliffs.
The chair we chose to destroy on 9/11was special only for its averageness. We bought it the morning of the throwing in a second hand shop in Brighton. It was flimsy , covered in beige velour and cost 15 quid. The three of us hauled it and all the camera equipment on a trolley a mile over farmland to the very edge of the chalky crumbling cliffs. We put a mike inside the chair to record the sound of the falling then Gimpo and me left Jimmy at the edge of the cliff with nothing but the chair and his own mind numbing sense of vertigo while we set up cameras on the beach below. It was a Monday so we hadn’t expected there to be many people around but there were lots. Sunbathing and picnicing – splayed out and resting in the last of the summer sun. Most of them moved out of the way when Gimpo told them we were going to drop an armchair on them if they didn’t but a couple got real gnarly and loitered. Images of those suits…the chair..Jimmy loosing his footing falling falling and splattering and creaking and crashing to his death. Images too of some small child running underneath the falling chair at the last moment and dying a truly awful death. So we waited and waited till almost everyone had gone and the tide was low and then Gimpo counted down and signalled to Jimmy and suddenly the chair was falling …arabesquing and twirling through the air …tumbling and hitting the cliff and it was all so fast and slow and incredibly beautiful at the same time. Then it hit the stones and there was a glorious smack and crunch followed by a long silence. The chair had broken its bones , its skin had split and it oozed cheap foam. One leg had been totally torn off.
Jimmy hadn’t fallen with it.
It was armchair destructivism at its best.
We gathered up the corpse and hauled it back over the long mile of rocks and paths to the car feeling like a bunch of dirty murderers – alternatively euphoric and guilty. After driving back to Brighton we dumped it in the workshop and for days it just stayed there in the corner – a nasty reminder of our darker selves.
At the end of the week the weather changed so I finally put the broken chair on the workbench and started ripping it down…peeling back the layers of fabric and foam and pulling out the hundreds of staples that held it together. The frame was twisted and fractured so I used nail plates to mend all the loose joints and make it solid enough to rebuild but still trying to retain the deformed shape caused by the fall.
The wooden leg is a piece of my house that I no longer needed.
I stuffed and stitched and lashed in new springs willing new life back into it. It took bloody weeks to reconstruct and everything about it seemed to hurt alot…twisting and turning and bending and stitching. My fingers bled all over the hesian when I pushed the needles in the wrong way and I cried over it as well . There were times when it seemed like the whole process wasn’t so much about upholstery but more some vicious nettle whipping religious redemption
Oh be careful what you wish for all you armchair destructivists who foolishly decide to reconstruct.
The chair I chose to cover in calico because I don’t have any real interest in soft furnishings – just stuffings and shapes and stitches that hold everything together. I left the back uncovered and tied a box of matches to the webbing as both an invitation to others and a small reminder to myself that nothing is ever what it seems.