Author(s): Lloyd Jones; Euan Macleod
High Wire brings together Booker finalist writer Lloyd Jones and artist Euan Macleod. It is the first of a series of picture books written and made for grownups and designed to showcase leading New Zealand writers and artists working together in a collaborative and dynamic way.
In High Wire the narrators playfully set out across the Tasman, literally on a high wire. Macleod's striking drawings explore notions of home, and depict homeward thoughts and dreams. High Wire also enters a metaphysical place where art is made, a place where any ambitious art-making enterprise requires its participants to hold their nerve and not look down. It's a beautifully considered small book which richly rewards the reader and stretches the notion of what the book can do.
A person on a bridge “is not on land, nor in the water, nor in the air.” A person on a bridge is in a no-place, a transitional space, they are necessarily an intruder, an interloper mandated only by the structure upon which they walk, the structure they must not doubt, traversing that which they have no right to traverse, that which they would not be able to traverse without the guile and intention that are concentrated as the bridge. “Bridges play to our vanities,” writes Jones. If there were no bridges, he writes, “longing would return to the landscape,” fulfillment would be attainable — and would remain unsullied by our attempts to attain it. Bridges, it seems, have the shape of a desire — up and over and down — “a bridge is an adult form.” But only “birds have no need of bridges.” High Wire is an arresting and thoughtful book, a collaboration between writer Lloyd Jones and artist Euan Macleod, exploring the tensions, exhilarations and dangers of the metaphorical tightrope walked by all who step out above the void in the search of new experience, as well as the construction and use of other tentative structures to reach across voids and gaps. “The task of a bridge is to grasp two possibilities without favour,” writes Jones, “a bridge is evidence of a shared value system. … The bridge must be kept safe and reliable, even if the place of origin will need to be remade.” Jones sees himself sitting in Wellington, writing his text as a way of making and walking a metaphorical bridge across the metaphorical Tasman towards Macleod’s studio in Sydney, “a dreamspace … like an empty cell conditioned to the pacing of its solitary prisoner,” where Macleod is painting and drawing as a way of making and walking the same bridge. A bridge, be it handrailed or wire-thin, crosses, in any act of creation, a void over which passage is always presumptuous and uncertain, a void that seems to resent our evasion of its pull, a void that exerts its attraction therefore on all who attempt a crossing. Jones and Macleod struggle to cross not only to each other but to us. Every creative act, writes Jones, is something like the act of Philippe Petit crossing a high wire between New York’s Twin Towers in 1974, “able to place his feet in a space where no-one else had. Seeing a path where no-one else had.” Crossing, “and then dismantling, and tidying up after.” Passage, though, is never certain. Macleod's stooped figures struggle against consuming backgrounds, or to emerge from the scribbles that are their genesis and which threaten to entangle them, they have a lumpenness or excess of gravity which threatens to pull them off the threads they cross, and, while Jones's words slice and hum with the clarity of taut wires, they also threaten to snap at any moment, to ping back, to tumble him out of his thoughts and into the empty page. To cross a bridge is an act of faith, or, if you are not capable of faith, an act of the suppression of doubt, if the suppression of doubt can be an act. “Even before [your step] has landed you are already beginning to rise. … I was lifted into a space unclaimed by language,” writes Jones, but “words must be found. It is a new thing. And, newness springs up all around. The journey is one of progressive naming — between here and there.”