Searching For The Impossible: The Flying Project

A Joel Tauber Project


Eilmer The Flying Monk.  33″x40″ transparency mounted in a lightbox.


In the 11th century, an English monk named Eilmer believed that the secret of flight was metaphysical. Prayer not science would enable him to fly. Eilmer thought that wings were useful only as mystical tools. Their physical properties were irrelevant. When Eilmer’s wings and prayers helped him believe he could fly, Eilmer leapt from the top of Malmesbury Abbey. Eilmer flew for more than a furlong… but then he crashed.  He was crippled for the rest of his life.



On October 7, 2001, I began my career as a tower jumper. I was following in the footsteps of Eilmer and Reichelt, but I was more pragmatic than they were. I brought a crash mat to allow myself the possibility of multiple flying attempts.



On November 15, 2001, I tried some new flying strategies. I spent much more time before each attempt preparing myself mentally to fly, and I leapt from greater heights than I had previously. A small but deep pond cushioned me after each failure, but I was not comforted. By the end of the day, I could not try anymore. I broke down and cried, as I realized that I could not fly without mechanical assistance.


Blanchard and I.  20″x30. Lightjet print.


Blanchard’s drawing made me realize that I wanted to make this dream of combining music and flight actually happen. I wanted to fly with helium balloons, but I wanted music and breath to power this flight. My theory was that breath plus music plus… forty six-foot helium balloons would equal flight. The bagpipe was critical for this equation to work. The bagpipe is the only instrument that I am aware of where you can make music by squeezing a balloon. If the helium balloons rose from horns that came out of the musical balloon of the bagpipe music and flight would be inseparably linked. Maybe this would allow me to combine the physics and metaphysics of flight in the way that ER Brewster tried to do.


Untitled.  60″x72″.  Lightjet print.


I was scared that I would not be able to fly. I was also scared that if I could fly that I would not be able to come down.  


Untitled.  60″x72″.  Lightjet print.


I floated in the air for over an hour. I used the valves to maintain a height of 150 feet for much of the flight.


Untitled.  60″x72″.  Lightjet print.


Adamski Gallery (Berlin)

Searching For The Impossible: The Flying Project is a 32 minute film as well as an installation consisting of the film, photographs (including a lightbox of Eilmer The Flying Monk) and the musical flying machine.  The project was first exhibited (in its completed form) at Art Center College of Design in 2002, and it has since been shown in many locations, including the Orange County Museum of Art (Newport Beach, CA), the DeAppel Centre for Contemporary Art (Amsterdam), the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, the California Museum of Photography, the Art Gallery of Novia ScotiaHerve Loevenbruck Gallery (Paris), Christine König Galerie (Vienna), Susanne Vielmetter LA Projects, and Galerie Adamski (Berlin).