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The Transatlantic Icarus
by Catherine Grigoriou

About Icarus

Icarus is a young person with an immense challenge to meet: either to stay under his father’s protection on the island of Crete where King Minos rules the land and the waves, and where he will be a priviledged but controlled subject, at least until his father continues being such a major problem-solver for the king. Or, he will make his big attempt to escape, by air. Where to? Back to Athens, or anywhere he manages to get on his improvised means, the wings he and his father carefully constructed out of bird feathers and wax.

Icarus is a man with a double destiny. The one he grew up with, and the one he dreamed of; all he has is his two wings, not a vehicle in which he will be seated to travel, not a craft, but two wings, that will only move as he moves them, for as long as his strenth moves them, for as long as his heart is strong enough to move his wings and his dream. His wings constructed by wax, the bee’s material of hive construction, and feathers, the birds’ own coat, his lungs full of the aromatic air of Crete, his mind sharpened by his father’s wisdom, the clarity of the horizon inviting him to try to conquer the freedom of the birds.

He flew away, he flew gloriously, he flew freely, he flew happily, he flew oblivious to his ultimate goal for another destiny, because he flew so beautifully, because, for a while, flying became the goal, and he flew laughing with it, and he flew loving it, and he flew exploring it, he flew low, touching the tops of the islands and the tips of the waves and he flew high, and he flew higher and the hot tips of the Greek Summer sun came to greet him full of curiosity: «What a strange bird this is» they thought. And they started tingling his wings’ ends and ran over his body and wondered at his vulnerability, and covered his curly hair with lots of sweat, and dazzled his eyes so, that when Icarus blinked his eyes saw everything red.

Icarus got dizzy, and his eyes got sleepy and his limbs got heavy, and his wings got hot and the top layers of feathers started coming off the wax, which had become soft with the heat. And he could not control his flight anymore and then he realized he had been playing up there for so long he had really lost his way, and he could see no land anywhere near, and then he recalled his father’s advice not to go too hight too late. He tried harder to flap his wings, but the harder he flapped them, the more feathers were coming off, the faster he was losing them, until he had no strength anymore, and then he saw the blue waves coming closer and felt the cool breeze as he slowed down and flied lower, and as he tried to steady his flight, he got the first sea spray over his skin.

And he welcomed the refreshing touch of the water, but, oh, the agony of betrayal, betrayal of his own and his father’s dream, betrayal of his wings as he did not take care of them, betrayal of the goal he tried so hard for.

Then again, what other destiny could possibly compete with the exuberance and happiness he experienced up there for so long, the power of freedom, the sense of self up there with almost no restrictions, the colors, the changes of density of the air, the changes of temperature of the winds, the breaking of the barriers of human access…

Thus, Icarus did meet his other destiny, he became a symbol of perseverence to overcome extreme odds and go against the very concept of what is humanly possible.

Icarus was not careless; he was a dreamer and a pioneer, who got bedazzled. Instead of managing to fly carefully and land on another Greek island and settle down and have a flock of sheep and a bunch of kids, he was met with another destiny, that of choosing the experience, the extremities of testing one’s abilities in what is humanly possible; follow your heart, then, Icarus, and give your body as the sacrificial lamb. And let the cowards interpret your choice as foolishness and let them laugh at you. It was not for them that you had conquered the skies, but for the others who will always dream. It’s only going to take humankind another three thousand years before they manage to share your view point.

Being Icarus is not about falling, but rather it is about rising above the restrictions of your time, and raising the human conscience to a different level and better Humanity itself.

Icarus, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, just a few names that come to mind, they all came to mark with their fall a big leap for Humanity, and alter the course of History towards a higher destiny, and thus they have risen. They never fell. It is the visionary’s curse to be misunderstood for as long as it takes for History to catch up.

My Icarus has crossed the Atlantic and hangs between the two coasts of this Ocean that bears the name of the giant that used to hold the Earth Globe on his shoulders. There must be a reason for the adoption of a double destiny, and for the cover of «The Transatlantic Icarus,» I have chosen this photograph from my 1999 work which was done with similar ideas in mind: the duality, the known and the unknown, the passionate pursuit for alternative answers, the division of self which, nevertheless, manages to retain unity and coherence due to a higher goal.

The duality exists everywhere in our lives these days; first is the duality of centuries in which we live. All of us - except for the children born to this world after January 2000 - were born in the XXth century and now we are in the XXIst. And there is so much expectation carried through from the previous century, so many disappointments with the most catastrophic wars and the degree of degradation of humanity that reached its nadir with the holocaust and the Atomic bomb, and, on the other hand, with high spirited institutions like the League of Nations and the United Nations getting unable to perform their professed goals just because Humanity was not ready to take up such selfless responsibilites.

Thus, in which direction are we expected to lead the XXIst century and which Ideals are going to move our reality and the way we see ourselves forward?

Finally, the most complex and promising duality in this regard is this of Womanhood and the way Woman is perceived in the world. In those parts of the world where she has a choice, she struggles to reconcile motherhood and whatever aspects of the so-called «traditional role» could possibly have any bearing on contemporary life, with the new roles she is called upon to perform: more «udpated duties,» the right for personal happiness, and participation in the shaping of the world. Many women have already «fallen» in this pursuit of an image representative of their ideals, which has not yet taken its final shape, and many more have created a viable record for others to follow, became role models, and the roles are still difficult acts to follow. But this is a worthy dream to fight for and lose your peace over. It’s O.K. to be afraid, Icarus.


Catherine Grigoriou

New York, June 17, 2002