BLAINE: Life outside the box
I and a few hundred other people watched, and wondered, and waited.
We waited for something to happen, but nothing did happen, not much.
The first thing that struck me is that it is a very small box, suspended
30ft above the ground next to the river Thames, hardly enough space
for someone to lay down in, let alone live in for 44 days. David
Blaine is laying down, sometimes standing, at others sitting. No
doubt he must be enduring quite a bit of physical discomfort, increasing
hunger and some physical pain, but what exactly am I looking at?
To a large extent nothing very much... but maybe this is the point.
went to see David Blaine out of curiosity, to see the crowds, to
see exactly where it was, to see him, perhaps so I could say 'I
went to see David Blaine'. Some people wrote messages on paper and
held them up for Blaine to read: 'Did you sleep well' was one message.
Blaine tried to answer by gesturing, waving and smiling to people,
but overall remaining quite nonchalant, unflustered. People were
taking photos of him like any other popular site in London. Some
were snapping him with their camera phones, and probably zapping
the pic to their friends. This is a bit like looking at some caged
animal at the zoo: we come along to see it, we wait for it to move,
it may do something amusing, have a scratch or a pee (do not feed
him though). Is it about imprisonment, starvation, or endurance.
Is he saying anything, or is he just doing nothing. Is this art,
theatre, a sham, a chance to make money, none or all of these? Are
we gullible for coming along, for paying to watch a web cam of a
bloke basically doing nothing, is it an important thing not to miss?
Who is in the box: are we in the box (boxed in by the mundane routine
of our lives)? Another take on this could be that it is the ultimate
in reality tv; a man locks himself in a box for days on end; it
is broadcast on tv and the internet; it is about survival; it is
a solo celebrity Big Brother; and being there, or watching on tv
or the web, we become part of it. But don't forget that this guy
is a magician, a stunt man, a trickster; is he really there, is
he really starving himself, is it really David Blaine himself, or
a double, does it matter if he's really there or not?
what about the people there looking and watching, and their reactions:
on the whole, those who had chosen to go and see this were intrigued,
supportive, and sympathetic to Blaine's well-being; some were in
awe, and some were clearly excited. Others seemed amused, bemused,
while a few were a little hostile: maybe faced with this conundrum
they felt confused, annoyed or abusive; this is quite similar to
some people's reaction to most contemporary or conceptual art; rather
than accepting the thing for what it is, they somehow feel challenged
by it and do not accept the right of the artist (Blaine) to just
do what they do; this is freedom of expression; it does not harm
anyone, so it's OK. Some people were calling out "we love you
David", others were saying "he's f--king mad"; how
can you love or hate a stranger, what is it that these people love
or hate about Blaine (or this stunt*)? How can such a 'non-event'
generate such a strong reaction?
me the physical or literal aspects of this event don't seem to matter,
and indeed actually seeing this event hardly adds to its overall
effect, since you've heard all about it before you go; you know
what to expect. As I stood looking up at Blaine in the box, and
watching the people around me, I realised it is not about a man
in a box (afterall that's absurd...), it is about everything outside
of the box: it is about us. A man sitting in a box for 44 days,
doing not much at all apart from existing, perhaps it is like a
mirror: and what do you see?
Smith, October 2003
Written after seeing Blaine on day 33 of 'Above The Below'.
Google news about David Blaine
a poll 75% of cnn.com readers find Blaine's stunts "annoying".)