Mauro Folci’s performance FALL, commissioned for the White Night of
Scientific Research, was first presented at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in
Frascati on 22 September 2006. It was inspired by a story narrated in Plato’s
Teeteto, in which Thales of Miletus' fall into a well while he is contemplating the
sky provokes laughter in a Thracian servant, who mocks him for his contempla-
tion of distant things and his distraction from what is near him.
Theinitial project required that a scientist invited to give a lecture on astronomy
at the Institute during the White Night event would feign a sudden fall whilst
walking on or off the stage.However when none of the scientists agreed to par-
ticipate, the original idea was modified and actors were hired to enact sudden
falls in key places in the Institute. The participants in the performance fell down
the stairs leading to the main hall and lost their balance on their way to sit
amongst the audience.
Widely considered as the first philosopher, Thales was primarily a naturalist.
The philosopher's figure has been evoked several times in the history of
western philosophy and is still significant in our times, as Hans Blumenberg
reminds us in his book The Laughter of the Thracian Woman: APrehistory of Theory.
Blumenberg points out the separation between theory and practice that the
anecdote recounted by Plato highlights. Referring back to Thales, Mauro Folci
continues to investigate his favourite themes: in this case, the fall and the
ensuing laughter are two elements that can be ascribed to the invariables of
human nature. In the hilarity provoked by a fall we would acknowledge our
human characteristics of fragility and insecurity.
Eachfall at the Frascati Nuclear centre stirred surprise and laughter.The project
aimed to investigate precisely the phenomenon of laughter,defined as a censory
one by French philosopher Henry Bergson . In his study of this human pheno-
menon, the philosopher came to the conclusion that laughter springs from a
censure towards body postures and movements which betray a sort of mecha-
nicalness, looking as if they were effected by an object rather than by a person.
Laughter has the same punitive value of a blow with a stick, it is a pedagogic
mechanism of natural selection: if I laugh when you fall, you will try not to fall
again in the future. Mauro Folci finds in the connection between laughter and
that which has provoked it, the expression of a true empathic acknowledge-
ment. Far from being censorious, the servant’s hilarity is the empathic acknow-
ledgement of the philosopher’s share of humanity. Absorbed by the contempla-
tion of the sky, the philosopher is pulled back down to earth precisely by his
fall. Suspended between his celestial aspirations and his ties to earth, Thales, by
falling, makes the servant laugh because she recognises in the fall a metaphor of
the human condition itself. If for Bergson a fall reveals something which is not
entirely human, Folci sees it as an instance of being 'too human'.
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