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Icarus of sails and wings

Icarus flew too close to the sun.

Icarus has long been an image held in my mind’s eye. The wings, the wax, the feathers, the burning sun. All the passion that taking flight to escape conjures up. I have never worked directly with the Icarus motif of the winged figure (man), although I have come close with installations of wax wings and tapered feathers (see pics) It continues to be a sauce of inspiration for me and I thought I would write about it, perhaps as a way of untangling my own interests in Icarus.

The feathers and wax. Of course. Almost too obvious. The beauty of the feather as the symbol of flight. The hot wax was with it’s translucent, soft appeal, malleable with heat, binding the feathers to reform a wing. The wax as fuel for the flame and drawing tool. There’s plenty to play with here but I want to look at some of the wider themes and ideas and what they mean to me.

The Flight. The sense of freedom this implies is ultimately hopeful. Yet the tragic end reminds us of limitations, luckily hope and joy will keep us trying to seek out more and go beyond.

The fall. This I find interesting, as a man, falling implies noble sacrifice, an attempt at greatness. ‘The fallen man’ as a soldier perhaps, valiant and brave, lost in an act of heroism. The fallen woman, on the other hand, is shameful and lacking moral judgement. What if Icarus was a woman? How would we see her flying too close to the sun? Silly and impetuous? Would ‘the fall’ be ultimate judgement of her trying to escape captivity- the freedom being too much to cope with? This attitude becomes a way of holding woman back from searching out new horizons. Or could casting Icarus in a female role place her in a beautiful and hopeful light. As fearless to see that euphoria and splendour was worth risking death. I hope so.

The Sea. In recent research into the myth I have found a new layer of poetic beauty. One take on the myth describes not wings crafted by Daedalus to escape Crete, but sails and a homemade boat. Icarus’s boat capsized and becoming entangled in the rigging he drowned. This has a tragic reality which weighs down the epic myth of the flight and fall. If this was the reality, the creation of the narrative of the wings takes on even more poetic shape for me. Catching the wind in the sails to cut through the oceans, following the sun’s path to reach new horizons is about the bravery of the explorer leaving firm land. In bravery there is hope. And hope is a thing with feathers

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