by Chantal duPont
The risk in moving is falling, which from the plunge to the collapse expresses in a limitless palette of shapes the various states of body and mind.
PARFAIT, Françoise, Vidéo, un art contemporain, Paris, éditions Du Regard, 2007.
Which of us has not fallen down at one time or another in our lives, in unforeseeable situations of vulnerability and loss of bodily control? It happens so quickly. After the fall you’ve already told yourself that you were preoccupied… you didn’t see it coming… you were in a hurry… you had your head in the clouds… you were wearing the wrong shoes…
The Website http://www.la-chute.com is composed of commonplace or odd falls taken from everyday life. This site is a continuation of the audio and video installation LA CHUTE by Chantal duPont. The content focuses on the body’s memory of the falling experience.
This installation was on display at the Agora Hydro-Québec, Hexagram/UQAM from April 26 to May 5, 2012 as part of the International Biennial of Digital Art presented by ELEKTRA.
43 years old when it happened
On the street
A bicycle ride
They were growing in the garden of our old house, and I didn’t know what I would find in the new garden. I didn’t want to leave the lilies of the valley I’d loved so much for fifteen years to the new occupants.
I was sure my next garden would never be as beautiful as the old one, so I picked my lilies of the valley… They were mine. I felt sad while I was picking them, but once they were in the bicycle basket I was very happy, I felt proud of myself.
I opened the iron gate, which was rusty and made a noise. My bike had a bell that was broken and didn’t work, but it rang whenever I went over a bump. So when I was riding it went tingaling! tingaling! all the time. My basket was rickety too... When I cycled I didn’t need to sound a warning, I made a lot of noise! I came to a stop sign, a crossing in front of a school and a park. Since it was the end of the school day there were children and school buses and people walking their dogs, people everywhere… And then I rode into a pothole, or rather, the bike fell into the pothole and I went flying over it… with the lilies of the valley, sailing through a cloud of lilies.
I hadn’t been paying any attention to what I was doing. It was a moment of total absent-mindedness. I was thinking about the days I was leaving behind me and the new times to come… I was daydreaming…
Worried, I e-mailed Camille and other people involved in the planned trip to say, Listen, something’s happened… Camille please reply and tell us you’re OK. Then my dad called me back half an hour later, the doctor had told him he wouldn’t be back because his daughter had just been hit by a car on Papineau and was dead.
… Dying at the age of twenty, or seeing a twenty-year-old die, that’s awful…
The same evening, spontaneously, the team who were going on the study course got together to pay tribute to Camille. I guess that’s what people do at times like that....
It was not a happy gathering… but at the same time we were glad not to have had to spend the evening alone. It was coming back from the get-together that I had my accident. It was just an ordinary fall off a bike, but my psychological reaction to it made it important.…
I went back the same way as usual going home. I was nearly there, only a minute away. I had to cross a park and ride over a gravel path that at one point slopes downhill. I rode round the same curve as always to get back to the street. It was easy… but that evening I was going so fast, I don’t even know what happened. I went into a skid, maybe because I turned too sharply or not enough, but the bike went into an uncontrollable skid and I found myself on the ground, along with my bike. It was a really bad skid to throw me off like that … Of all the times I’ve fallen off my bike this was the least dangerous, but it was the one that gave me the strongest impression of having nearly been killed… I’d never felt like that before.
6 years old when it happened
In our garden
With my friends and my parents
It was for our birthday, my brother’s and mine… we’d invited our friends so it was like a children’s party. There was a sort of penthouse where the roof of the house sloped down and there was a beam where we hung a swing that swung out over the garden.
We took turns on the swing. The idea was to see who could swing the highest, with their feet up in the air. When my turn came I swung really high, and the ropes of the swing came loose… I found myself flying through the air, and then I fell. At that time my father had begun to dig out a swimming pool for us in the garden. It wasn’t quite finished, so I found myself face down in the rubble at the bottom of the hole. I hadn’t broken any bones and I wasn’t injured… but it was the shock of the swing coming loose all of a sudden… and the fact that in the end I fell At first I was really stunned, and then after that I felt frightened and I began to cry…
I’d hardly had the time to realize that the swing had come loose before I found myself on the ground… so I didn’t feel much… I think I was scared for a moment, but at the same time… it was cool… I felt as if I was flying momentarily… but it was only for a fraction of a second because the next thing I knew I was in the rubble.
25 years old when it happened
Beside the sea
With my lover
Walking along the shore
I was walking by the sea with my lover (we were on holiday). It was a rocky shore… porous rock, so at high tide the sea made little craters in it … and bigger ones like small pools… with little fishes… and there were even smaller ones too… I was walking with my friend, but I was picking up shells and he had wandered on ahead, he was much farther away… because collecting seashells is more of a girl’s thing.…
So I was picking shells out of the little pools... and since at high tide the sea rises, the rocks were a bit more slippery… my friend was even farther away. In one hand I had my shells and in the other my camera with the strap around my wrist… There were so many things to look at… I wasn’t watching my feet… and all of a sudden I slipped on the rocks and fell backwards into a hole… a small crater really… I was sitting in a hole… All I could think of was saving my collection of shells first and then my camera… Actually, when I fell most of the water in the hole had splashed out …
I wasn’t scared… it was more the fact that I was sitting in a pool of water on top of a bunch of shells and little fishes… It was rather embarrassing. I couldn’t wait to get out of there…
11 years old when it happened
In the schoolyard
Going to join his friends in the yard
It was recess. I don’t remember why, but I was a bit late getting out of school… I was going to join my friends who were playing ball at the end of the yard. The way it was built, it sloped down slightly. When you came out you were at the top of the slope. In the spring there was always standing water at the bottom of the slope where the snow had melted.
I was running… I had something to say to the kids who were playing ball ... I don’t know what…and I yelled Hey, guys... and they all turned towards me. I was at the top of the slope and my feet caught in the grass ... I pitched down head first right into the pool of water in front of the whole school. It was really embarrassing, I felt awful. After that, what was done at my school when something like that happened, you weren’t sent home. Instead they lent you clothes, old clothes they kept for the purpose. So all day long I had to wear these old clothes… a sweater that was far too big, and awful pants and shoes. I had to wear the insignia of my fall for the rest of the day.
I don’t remember if it hurt or whether I was injured… but I clearly remember feeling ashamed… the mental pain was worse than the physical pain.
54 years old when it happened
Going over to close the window
It all happened during the night. I was asleep, but it was a very hot night, so all the windows in the house were wide open to let the air in and make it easier to sleep… at one point I heard the rain which woke me up… There was thunder and I saw the rain and the curtains were flapping... so I thought I must close the windows, because they were letting the rain in.… So I leapt up out of bed to get to the window, and my foot caught in the sheet lying on the floor which I’d thrown off because of the heat. At the next step my big toe got caught up in something… and I fell backwards full length on the floor… When I got up I had trouble walking… I shut the first window and then hobbled all the way along to close the rest of the windows.
It’s infuriating… You wonder what you could have done to avoid it… nothing, because I was literally in the dark and got caught in the sheet. I felt trapped by it and couldn’t seem to get away from it… Ouch… and then I fell.
17 years old when it happened
At the corner of the street
Running to catch the bus with my hands full
I was 17 years old, I was in the 11th grade, school was over and it was 3.15 p.m... I was in a hurry, I had to catch the bus, it was wintertime. I had my coat slung over my shoulders, my scarf askew, my boots only half done up, my big backpack on my shoulder and my hands full as well… I was running like mad. It was downtown so there were a lot of alleys. I had to turn right to get to the bus… at the corner there was an enormous sheet of ice that I didn’t see because a little snow had fallen and hidden it… the classic trap… I hit it running and whoops! My feet went from under me, I fell first on my behind, then on my back, and all my stuff was scattered around me… it was a catastrophe…
I collected the stuff together and tried to get up… it was hard because there was more ice beyond where I’d fallen, but I had to catch the bus… it was rush hour and all those people had seen me fall… I felt a bit embarrassed, but that’s the way it happened.
59 years old when it happened
At home, in the bathroom
Taking a bath
It was winter and the weather was cold. It was the year after I fell off the office chair. I decided to run a relaxing bubble bath in the tub, which isn’t very big. So I got undressed and got into the tub… The water was warm and full of bubbles… it was wonderful. After a while, when I saw my skin getting wrinkled, I had to get out… There I was, sitting in the little old tub. I’d been told it was great for the skin. So I tried to get up from my sitting position, with my hands on the side of the tub… I slipped and fell back in… and Ow! It hurt!
I couldn’t understand it. I got up again in the same way… and fell back in again. That time it really hurt. There was a turquoise water heater above me running up to the ceiling. It occurred to me that if I’d hit my head on it, I could have drowned… With my right foot I eased the plug out of the bath. The water came up over my head, I remember.
58 years old when it happened
On the staircase in front of the house
Coming back from a neighbour’s house holding a cake
I had my dogs with me, I went down the stairs. It wasn’t far to Anne-Marie and Alain’s place. I walked there, wearing my sandals (that’s why I slipped, incidentally…). I was walking calmly along with the plate… no, there wasn’t a plate, the cake was probably wrapped in aluminium foil. I got there and just stood in front of the house… nothing was moving, I couldn’t hear anything,… so I came back home with the dogs.
As I went up the stairs, the dogs beside me, I was putting my right foot on the step when it slipped. I began to fall backwards… I wanted to save myself by pulling my foot back, but one of the dogs was behind me, and I realized I couldn’t do so... I needed to protect my right leg because it had been broken once, so I fell holding it back and it was the tendon of my left foot that struck the edge of the step… bang! And I fell, flying back about 15 feet…I found myself crouched on my side on a sort of border. I wasn’t stunned, but I had a sharp pain in my foot, and my first thought was I’ve given myself a real bruise there. I don’t know why, it’s just what came into my head.
58 years old when it happened
Outside the house
While walking down the steps
It takes me at least 15 minutes to get downtown. I wasn’t sure I’d be there on time, so I ran, holding my briefcase. I hadn’t even closed it. I was wearing my rubber boots… I rushed to the top of the steps… and then I slipped… It happened on the staircase, there are eight steps here. I slid down on my back bump… bump… bump… from one step to the next. And then my briefcase fell over, spilling the papers all down the steps. They were important documents so I dragged myself back up on my stomach to collect them, and then I thought I can’t have broken any bones if I can crawl…
So I crept to the top of the steps to gather up the scattered papers, which I succeeded in doing. I think I was shocked more than hurt. It was a tremendous shock.
59 years old when it happened
On St-Christophe Street
I had an appointment for a mammogram, and I was walking to the clinic. It was springtime, in May… I was going along St-Christophe Street which runs parallel to St-Hubert. It’s rather like a lane, very residential, very quiet, and there was a woman ahead of me with a baby in a carriage. I was walking briskly, as if I was in a hurry, although I wasn’t late for my appointment… and I was wearing light shoes, rather like loafers, with no laces… I’d just got to the corner of St-Christophe and Roy when all of a sudden… I thought it was a pebble I’d trodden on… but I have weak ankles, and my right ankle turned over and gave way… and I don’t know why… I was looking at the woman ahead of me, and my feet slipped and bang! There I was, lying on the ground. My feet had really let me down, and I’d fallen on my side.
I think I said Oh boy! and then I thought, Well, I’m not wearing the right footwear for walking fast.
21 years old when it happened
In a Portuguese village across from the hotel
With my brother, a friend of his and a fellow traveller
Chatting, leaning against a wooden fence (construction site)
I was about twenty and it was my first trip to Europe. I was with my brother and a friend of his in a little village in Portugal, in the Algarve. That evening we all met to have a drink and a meal in the restaurant. It was a great evening… and we drank a lot.
It was getting late and we’d started to say “Good night”, but we hesitated… should we have another beer? We were really fascinated by the magic of this little Portuguese village. We got as far as the door of our hotel. There was a construction site surrounded by wood hoardings. To postpone our final goodbyes, we decided to smoke a last cigarette and chat outside the door. My Portuguese buddy and I were leaning back against the hoardings, facing my brother and his buddy who were standing opposite us. So we rested our behinds comfortably against the hoardings, we were joking around and laughing our heads off when all of a sudden… oops! We saw the sky as we fell head over heels backwards into the ditch, a pit about twelve feet deep…and then I felt the wooden beam hit me on the head… but I was so drunk that my muscles were slack when I fell. Neither of us was hurt at all.
Then reality kicked in. We had a good laugh, and then looked at the position we were in. We could have been in a real mess, since the beam that fell on our heads was a big one, about nine feet long. It had tumbled down on top of us. We were covered in dust, we had cramps, and we went for another beer afterwards. It was the first time I’d ever fallen backwards… it was a weird feeling…
We weren’t frightened, just dizzy, and we were so drunk as well, it was funny, not scary, more like exciting. After we got over the surprise, there was no cracking noise. We were just sitting there, and then everything teetered and we both lost our balance. There was no fear, it was more like when you’re knocked over by a wave…
8 years old when it happened
In a park
Playing with friends
Teasing my friend’s admirer
There was a park near home where I used to go and play every day after school… I was there with my friend Tania and a boy from our class was there. I knew this boy had a crush on Tania. We were playing, I don’t remember exactly what we were doing, we were running around, and I started to tease him, yelling Steven loves Tania… Steven loves Tania… Steven loves Tania… and then he began to chase me.
He chased me through the park… and at a certain point he was running faster… and I was still taunting him… Then both of us were standing on the drystone wall, and he said… If you don’t stop I’ll push you off… and I went on… Then we began to fight… The roof of the chalet stuck out beyond the building, and there was a wooden beam that jutted out from the wall up to the pointed bit of the roof.
And then he pushed me and I found myself hanging on to the beam… It was more than five feet long… and even then, clinging to it like a koala bear, I went on annoying him… and in the end he pulled my hands off it and I fell almost five or six feet down to the ground.… I fell on my shoulder… and it really really hurt …
7 or 8 years old at the time
In the parking lot of the Community Centre
With a group of 7 to 10 year-old friends
We were playing tag
We’d just taken our karate exams. First the kids and then it was the parents’ turn. So we kids went outside to play tag, six or seven of us between 7 and 10 years old, and we were jostling each other…
We’d added a new twist to our version of tag, which was that we could climb into the back of my dad’s pickup truck… it wasn’t off limits, it was just another part of the game ... It made it harder to touch the person, but if you decided to climb into the back of the truck, you risked getting tagged if you couldn’t get down in time. So what happened was that I was in the back of the truck and the tagger came up. The others had jumped before me, and it was really time for me to jump out, otherwise I would be touched. I don’t exactly how I did it, but my foot caught on the edge, I hadn’t lifted it high enough. So instead of landing on my feet when I jumped, I landed head first…
I think I was only scared for a moment, just when I felt my foot was caught, when I knew I was going to fall… a few seconds… just enough time to realize I was falling, and then I was on the ground… I couldn’t see properly… I felt groggy.
61 years old when it happened
In my office
Looking for specialized dictionaries for a piece of translation work
I was at my computer working on a translation and looking in the data bases. I couldn’t find the words I wanted, so I had to go and check in the dictionaries. They were up above my head, in a filing cabinet, at the top… I got up and rolled my chair towards it. Because I’m short, and they were up high, I climbed on to the chair and stood on tiptoe. I opened the flap and got hold of the two dictionaries, which were heavy. I was already a bit off balance leaning across the gap… the dictionaries almost fell on top of me, and I hung on to them so they wouldn’t fall on the floor (dictionaries are costly books)… and I moved back, slightly off balance, and back and back... but I didn’t realize that at the same time I was pushing the chair forwards… I sat down… and I was on the floor….
The wheel of the chair leg had broken off… and I’d dropped the dictionaries…
Since I often fall down, I tell myself, or rather I used to tell myself, I was clumsy, but this time I said Not again!... I told myself I would have to be more careful the next time.
50 years old when it happened
In the garage
Shutting the garage door (in a temper)
It was evening… All of a sudden I caught a whiff of skunk outside, and when I looked out I saw the garage door wasn’t shut. So I went in, down the basement stairs and quickly into the garage, cursing the kids… no way to close the door, it’s dangerous after a skunk’s got in. Then I heard it… Crunch, crunch! I switched the light on and what did I see but a skunk … what was worse, it was looking at me and beginning to turn round with its tail stiffened.… I stammered Oh! Sorry! Excuse me! and began to back up. There was a kid’s wheelbarrow in the way, my feet got caught in it and I found myself on my behind. I’d toppled over upside down. I wasn’t hurt… I don’t know how I got up, but I had the impression I’d pirouetted a good five feet away. I went on retreating towards the exit saying Excuse me… Excuse me… Excuse me…
… I had only one idea in my head, and that was not to upset the skunk. I didn’t want it to pee, thinking of the stink that would fill the house. Just imagine, if a skunk peed in your garage… with the kids’ room overhead… but anyway, I’d performed the best pirouette of my life.
49 years old when it happened
I had just come out of class, I was a teacher in a COFI.
I was also working at Hydro Quebec in the daytime, and I’d had a call asking me to teach an evening class. I hesitated, and eventually I agreed. The class ran from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. I said ‘Yes”, but it was unwillingly. I have a problem with saying ‘No”…
I was in a hurry, walking fast. I went down the stairs and along the very long corridors… it was a huge COFI, now closed. Other classes were finishing… I heard people talking… and then the sound of footsteps, hurried footsteps. I went quickly down the stairs to the door, saying Hello, hello, very very well… I went outside. Four or five steps and Whoops! I fell. It was cold. I’d been walking too fast…I was stressed out… I wanted to go home… I walked to my car.
There was water on the ground. Perhaps it had rained and a sheet of ice had formed over the puddle because of the cold. It was quite impossible to walk without slipping. It had snowed, and I’d been told there was black ice underneath … I don’t know… after all these years living here... I’d never come across black ice. I must admit that I wasn’t wearing the right sort of footwear, I didn’t have rubber soles …
I felt off balance... I felt very, very fragile... My life suddenly seemed full of problems. I was miserable.
59 years old when it happened
At home, in the stairwell
I was going out shopping
It must be said that I’m an expert at falling, I’ve been doing it all my life… it’s probably because I’m absentminded. If there’s a pothole, a hole in the sidewalk, a step, anything like that, you can be sure I’ll fall into it face first. To such an extent that when I was little I always had scabs on my knees that never had time to heal and fall off…When they were starting to heal, I’d fall down again.
It was in the stairwell in my building, on a Saturday morning… I still felt attractive… a bit younger than I am now… and on a Saturday morning I was wearing shoes with little heels… click… click… click… I was off to buy food because I had friends coming over for supper, so I was thinking about the menu and what I was going to buy… I think I must have slipped… in fact one of my heels had caught in the metal grill (there’s one in each step so people don’t slip). For me it was the other way round! I must have caught my heel… I must have tried to pull myself together, to control my legs and arms… there was no way… I was flung from the wall to the banisters … Ow! But I was still out of control, nothing worked, I couldn’t stop, so I rolled downstairs right to the bottom… I was still hanging on to my keys, but I heard something fall, and I thought Oh great! I’ve broken my glasses…
63 years old when it happened
On the sidewalk across from Danièle’s house
With the dog on a long leash
Getting the car ready to go and pick up firewood
Before I fell, I was feeling cheerful. I was emptying the car trunk of a heap of boots, coats and all sorts of things that had been lying there for months, because I was driving to a friend’s house to get firewood. While clearing out the trunk and carrying stuff back into the house, I was playing with Uber, who was tied up on a long leash. He was very excited and I was in a dreamy mood. As I went back, his leash got wrapped round my legs and I fell on the lawn where it rises just before the sidewalk. I went down on the cement with both knees and then both hands.
It was like an altered state of consciousness, actually… For a minute I couldn’t believe it… But that’s just like me… I don’t believe in much… Only once I realized my knees were on the ground did I come to my senses… but before that, for a few seconds, I was flying…
Physically, it reminded me of a state of shock I’d been in before at some point in my life, like the moment when one sees the “Queen of the Night”…
30 years old when it happened
On Mont-Royal Street
With my two-year-old daughter
Émilie must have been two, so I was about thirty. We were in a greengrocer’s on Mont-Royal near Mentana to buy fruit and vegetables. It was early spring and there was still ice on the sidewalk. Émilie was tired from walking, so I’d decided to hoist her up on my shoulders… I’d come out of the shop, lifted Émilie on to my shoulders and set off towards home… Then I slipped on a patch of ice… I fell to one side, not actually on my back, so Émilie wasn’t hurt.
In the moment of falling, I felt nothing... I must have twisted around quite violently to protect Émilie and at the same time to protect myself too… my whole body was contorted.
I felt I’d been a bad father, and what was worse, in public… you find yourself in a situation where everyone sees how incompetent you are… I felt really ashamed…
69 years old when it happened
In a park beside the Lachine rapids
With old classmates
It was fine spring weather, just a bit cool, about eight in the morning… there were four of us, old classmates with our fishing rods... we were sure we wouldn’t catch anything, but that was no problem… it was the walk that mattered, and being with friends…
So that day we walked to the park that runs alongside the Lachine canal, to a place at the end of the island… as usual, no-one had caught anything… we decided to move on to a place farther along… we were on the bank… on the way down towards the water. There’s a bit of a slope covered with rocks and small pebbles at the edges, like ball bearings… if you don’t pay attention, if you don’t put your feet down carefully, you’re in trouble… I have a weak knee, the result of an injury when I was eighteen. I started down taking the first step with my right leg, but my foot wobbled… I began to slip, and I tried to stop but then my knee packed up. It bent the wrong way, setting off a sharp pain, and I subsided. At least I didn’t fall into the water, I stopped just before I got there, but I felt a sinister crack inside my knee…
33 years old when it happened
In the woods
With 4 other people involved
Shooting a chase backwards
We were on location in the woods shooting a short film. A young woman was running away from someone chasing her, and I was filming her face-on… I was facing her, she was running towards the camera, which was moving backwards at the same time, filming a terrified woman trying to escape. So I was walking backwards, and there were trees all round me… To make sure that I didn’t trip or run smack into a tree, one of the actors stayed behind me, keeping his hand on my back and looking around to see where he was going…
We filmed the scene once, twice, three times… It was going well, but we wanted to make it a little better. So we shot it once again, and this time what hadn’t happened before did happen… I tripped over a root, I fell backwards, and the actor behind grabbed me to break my fall... He wrapped himself around me like an octopus, holding me off the ground, and I fell in slow motion on to my back without really touching the ground. He himself fell slowly backwards too, supporting me all the time, till I slipped off him and fell to the ground on my side, holding the camera. Neither of us was hurt… Just a bit dirty.
Aged 16 at the time
In a CEGEP residence, in a friend’s room
With four people
A quiet evening among friends
I was in a residence of the La Pocatière CEGEP with my brother and two friends. We were in Ralph’s room… it was evening, all four of us were there, we were having a good time… I was sitting on a small box on the floor in a corner… I began to feel weird, but I didn’t know why… there were several possibilities, but I didn’t think it was hypoglycaemia… It wasn’t like the hypoglycaemia I’d felt before… so I told myself it was because I’d been smoking and the room was too small.
So my brother and I decided to leave… I went out first, and there was a very bright light in the corridor… and I couldn’t see anything at all… There were flashes of light… like huge stars… standing up I felt even worse. So then I realized I was hypoglycaemic, and I took some packets of sugar out of my pocket (that was what they were there for) and began to eat… and I just had time to turn towards my brother, who had just come out, and say to him… I really don’t feel well… I was facing him and my knee gave way… I fell on my side, my head hit the wall on the other side, and I fell all the way along the wall on my back, with my legs bent behind me... in a really unnatural position…
It’s crazy, but I remember what was going on in my head while I was passing out… I thought I was in a car and I could see the streetlights going past as if I was on the freeway going at high speed… and then I felt as if I was trapped underneath the car seat… and I was trying to get out… it was going really fast and I could see the lights flashing by… and then I woke up… and I realized I was in the corridor…
Aged 28 at the time
Talking on telephone and walking down the stairs