Mariëtte van Stralen - Bart Lootsma
In 1946, Yves Klein, then eighteen years old, lay sunning with his friends on the beach at Nice. The youths decided to divide up the world between them. Klein chose the air, the cloudless sky. He identified himself with boundless space by writing his name in the air. Later, he declared this to be his greatest and most beautiful work. In perceiving the cloudless expanse, the infinite, Klein experienced freedom. The experience of total relaxation combined with losing himself in higher things was crucial for the development of his work.
Yves Klein's work is often viewed as an attempt to reconcile life with art, resembling in this respect much art of the fifties and early sixties - art that entailed an abandonment of higher realms in favour of the everyday. On consideration, however, this view is quite untrue, or the statement entails at the very least an ambiguity. While Klein cooperated with the Nouveau Realistes and was a close friend of theirs, he was no one of them - not, at least if we are to view Nouveau Realisme as a French variant of Pop Art, a movement that specialized in appropriating banal subjects from the consumer society and bringing them into an art context. Klein's aim was to use art as a way of bringing people into contact with Life. Life, as Klein saw it, was not at all something that mankind owned, but in the first instance was something that belonged to an higher order. It was possible to gain possession of Life, however, by developing what he termed Cosmic Sensitivity.
Klein's ideas were based to a considerable extent on the ideas of Max Heindel on theosophical cosmology. Klein was a member of the Rosicrucian Brotherhood for six years from 1948, and studied and practised their teachings as formulated by Heindel. In Heindel's version of theosophical cosmology', wrote Thomas McEvilly, Spirit (or Life) is identical with Space. It is represented by colour (which, as Klein wrote, is "free", because "it is instantly dissolved in space"), but especially by the colour blue; it is infinite expansiveness with no internal divisions to affront its wholeness. Space/Spirit/Life permeates and contains all transient forms, thereby negating their apparent differences and boundaries. Human evolution, according to Heindel, is approching the end of the age of Form and solid matter, and soon will reimmerce itself in an age of Space/Spirit/Life that will restore the condition of Eden.' Kleins monochrome paintings are intended, through pure colour, to absorb and transport the spectator who thereby gains an intimation, albeit momentary, of total mental and physical freedom.
In this connection, Pierre Restany spoke of a "moment of truth". For Klein, however, this moment of truth was even more a moment of vehemently impatient, impossible longing; or, in the words of a prayer of dedication that he placed with one of his paintings in the Shrine of Saint Rita,
"May the Impossible arrive and establish His Kingdom quickly."
Klein did not restrict himself to paintings as his means of offerings an intimation of higher things, but pondered at many different levels about techniques for archieving greater Cosmic Sensitivity in everyday life. The word "techniques" is meant literally here. It sometimes looks as though Klein, in his impatient longing, set technical progress on a par with spiritual transcendency. In this light it was no more than logical that, in the late fifties, he should turn his hand to architecture as offering a more comprehensive spatial experience.
Together with architect Werner Ruhnau, he developed plans for an "air architecture". The concepts entailed the climatic conditioning of large parts of the earth's surface, use being made of the elementary energies of air, water and fire. The plans of Klein and Ruhnau can be seen as an expression of a longing for an immaterial architecture that would not only offer absolute comfort but would also bring its inhabitants to a higher state of conciousness. Klein saw air architecture as a potential way of using technology to create a paradise on earth, an Eden, where mankind could walk naked: 'The technical and scientific conclusion of our civilization lies bured in the bowels of the earth and assures comfort by the absolute control of the climate at the surface of all the continent."
The simplest principle of air architecture entailed a roof of air fed by bellows. This would create a zone that would protect against rain, dust and electrical phenomena, while still being transparent to ultraviolet and infrared radiation and thus allowing the warmth and light of the sun to penetrate. A subterranean air conditioning system was proposed to regulate the temperature of the earth. In executing their plans, the architects would make the most of the given natural circumstances. In a valley, for instance, it ought to be possible to use a stream of air to cover off the entire space between the two slopes. The space of the individual person would be conditioned by compressed air. In this area, Klein devised among other things an "air bed", a mattress of compressed air on which one could lie and relax. The flow of air would also continually massage the body.
Air architecture, it was proposed, would instigate a Planetary Sensitivity, the eventual goal being Universal Levitation: Man's will can finally regulate life at the level of constant 'wonders'. The free man has reached a point where he can even levitate! Occupation: Leisure'(...)
"Thus we will become aerial man, we will experience the force of attraction upward, toward space, toward nowhere and everywhere at the same time; the force of earthly attraction thus mastered, we will literally levitate in total psysical and spiritual freedom."
Not very long afterwards, Klein retracted from his position of technical optimism. His renowned leap into space was a direct commentary on the approaching likelihood that man would soon be travelling through space. Klein presented his leap in the form of an item on the front page of a mock newspaper that exactly resembled the Journal de Dimanche, the Sunday edition of the Parisien daily France-Soir. It was in 1960, three years after the small dog called Laika had orbited the earth and a year before the first manned space flight of Gagarin; in short, it was in the days when the United States and Soviet Union were locked in a battle for technological hegemony. The headline announced "Man in Space". That must have attracted its share of attention. The subhead made it clear, however, that it was not a technological world power but an artist who had taken the great leap.
The illustration was a mysterious photo of Klein jumping off an old house in a suburb of Paris. In one of the articles in the newspaper, Klein explained the reasons for his action: "In order to paint space, I owe it to myself to go there, to that very space." He summoned everyone to follow him. We all know, of course, that the moment of weightlessness that Klein experienced was of very short duration and that an instant after the photo was taken he landed with force on the ground. Still, the moment was an important one and, in Klein's eyes, superior to any space flight with the aid of a rocket since it was more spiritual. 'Today anyone who paints space must actually fo into space to paint, but he must go there without any faking, and neither in an aeroplane, a parachute nor a rocket. He must go there by his own means, by an autonomous, individual force; in a word, he must be capable of levitating."
translated by Victor Joseph
Yves Klein: Stabilito che... (manifesto dell’Hotel Chelsea 1961)
Yves Klein, Werner Ruhnau: Progetto per un’architettura dell’aria (1958)
Yves Klein, Werner Ruhnau: Projet pour une architecture de l’air (1958)
Yves Klein: Ex-voto pour Sainte Rita de Cascia
Yves Klein: Le Vide
André Verdet Poem to Yves Klein (may 1962)
Anneliese Knorr Das Musiktheater Gelsenkirchen