Icarus, drawings, © Eric Itschert
Icarus, drawing, selfportrait, © Eric Itschert
Daedalus the architect and Icarus his son are summoned to King Minos’ superb palace.
Thus speaks the King: “Daedalus when you gave my daughter Ariane the ball of wool you became accomplice to a crime as yet unpunished. Theseus murderer of the Minotaur escaped and what’s more with my daughter! To be shut up for life in the labyrinth shall be your punishment and your son shall share your fate. As the inventor of the labyrinth you know how to escape from it, but I warn you not to attempt it! Whether over or under the earth, over or under the sea since my sentinels are posted everywhere with orders to kill you if they see you escaping.”
The King’s order is carried out that very day.
1.1. Walls everywhere and the blue sky above. In the city or not it makes no difference. After his cousin Thalos’ death Icarus feels alone no matter where he is. The labyrinth has been entirely built with smooth walls of semi-translucent white marble. Depending on the direction of the sun there is a magic show of light and shade. The stones are so perfectly fitted that their joints are invisible. It is so difficult to find your way in this mineral world because with the constant variation in the light there are no reference points. Icarus learned to know the labyrinth and what to do to not lose the centre.
1.2. The centre is marked by a large square. In the middle grows a superb tree, gigantic, magic, mysterious. Exactly in the centre of the labyrinth is a small building whose little entrance is located on the square. The presence of the Minotaur is still strongly felt. Deep sadness and suffering hover over the entrance. The monster lived a very sad life. Bearing the weight of other’s errors and overwhelmed by men’s fear and disdain he played his role of scapegoat within the smooth walls. The building seems to be a temple. His father, seemingly afraid forbade him to go in. They receive their food in the centre as the Minotaur did in the past. It comes from a screw piercing one of the square’s walls and ending in a trough. The mixture of corn and beer is not very palatable but luckily they can complement it with mushrooms, fruits and what they can hunt. His father taught him how to use a bow ordering him to kill as many birds as possible. This makes him sad but he does not dare disobey his father whom he has feared since the murder of Thalos killed by Daedalus in a fit of jealousy. But his cousin lives still; Athena the kindly goddess has turned him into a partridge. There is a channel that brings water into a fountain. The overflow is collected by another channel leading to a pool where Icarus loves swimming. In its turn this pool pours its overflow over one of its sides to water the ground.
1.3. At the centre the tree had grown without much food, save the dung of the Minotaur and uneaten food. Nothing remains of previous corpses. The Minotaur has even chewed and swallowed their bones. The growth of the tree is mysterious; the recycling of organic material. Not only around but on the tree itself a multitude of other species is growing: butterflies play, bees collect nectar. In the high branches strange-coloured flowers grow and at its foot some mushrooms and fragrant bushes.
1.4. His father is always busy in one of the covered workshops that have been abandoned since the completion of the construction of the building. There are all sorts of things abandoned there.
1.5. Icarus lives completely naked and uninhibited. Slender, supple and agile as a cat he loves climbing the tree. He eats flowers and honey stolen from hives placed up in the heights. There are birds everywhere. Icarus would have liked to fly like them. He sees himself as the son of the tree and the sky. He spends his time exploring the tree. At midday when the heat is too great he climbs down with his skin bronzed by the sun. He shelters in an abandoned temple located at the south of the square. It is a place where his father never comes and it is ideal for sleeping, dreaming or inventing all sorts of games. There is a bronze statue of a handsome god, smiling with an inscrutable expression. His “precious-stone” eyes shine with a mischievous glint as he watches kindly over the activities of the adolescent. Icarus adores his beautiful face and after a nap or in the middle of a game he loves to gaze at the splendour of this god standing naked. In the afternoon after being refreshed with cool water, warm fruit and red berries he goes back to visiting the tree. Sometimes stomach pains required him to climb down quickly and crouch discreetly in a remote corner of the labyrinth: too much fruit! That very night flowers mark the spot where he stopped, springing from the seeds swallowed during his meal.
1.6. In the evening Daedalus and Icarus meet and Icarus prepares their meal. He cannot help crying over the fate of the birds whose feathers he plucks. They light a fire near the tree and eat the flesh of the slaughtered birds with herbs and mushrooms. The feathers are carried into the workshop.
1.7. One morning Icarus has to fetch an entire hive from the tree. Playing a moment with the partridge that is so often at his side when he walks on the ground, he climbs the tree with a bundle of wood. The labyrinth unfolded before his eyes, the outside world lay open to his gaze: to the west the city, to the east and south the forests, to the north the blue expanse of the sea. When it is clear you can see the mountains with their snowy peaks. Below the tree near the centre the walls have been worn to beige full of moss and living plants but a little further off they have retained their mineral lustre. High in the tree Icarus smokes the hive with a little fire lit on a thick branch. When he climbs down with the wax, his stomach is bulging with flowers, honey and sun-warmed fruit. He has to steel himself to enter his father’s workshop where mysterious engines are driving huge bellows. It is dark inside under a solid smoke-blackened roof. A fire burns continuously. His father is a blacksmith, carpenter, sculptor, architect, inventor and maker of things. Two light structures secured by flaxen cords are waiting. On the immense table are blueprints and in the corner a huge pile of feathers.
1.8. In the following evenings, after dinner Icarus listens carefully to his father’s teaching. Their escape can only be by air therefore they will fly with artificial wings. Firstly using models, then with the huge completed wings fitted to his body Icarus learns the manoeuvres and the mechanics of flight.
2.1. “Tomorrow we leave” his father tells him.
2.2. “We will take off from the north end of the labyrinth in order to stop the bowmen targeting us”.
2.3. The next day they leave before sunrise. Three days pass with very little to eat or drink. Their loads were limited to the strict minimum because the wings are so awkward to carry. Walls everywhere and the blue sky above. During the day Icarus is sorry not to have the cool, leafy shade, while in the cold night he longs for the smoky but warm workshop. At midday he remembers the abandoned but so cool temple. He comes almost to miss his former captivity. Everywhere immaculate marble. On the third morning Icarus stumbles on, dazed, robotic Thirst dries his throat and in his mouth there is a marshy taste. His lungs are scorched by the hot winds bearing sand from the labyrinth. A stifling feeling weighs him down. Other than the sound of the sea and the inimitable cry of the gulls there is no sound, no birdsong or buzz of bee. At noon he bumps into his father and wakes up.
2.4. “Now you can drink all the water we have left.” Icarus drinks slowly as he has been taught to do and brings out a few dried fruits and flowers. He feels better now but trembles with cold. Is it the water or a fever? The genius of Daedalus permits them to scale the wall and the sea lay before them with a cool wind blowing. All at once Icarus regains his serenity.
3.1. Together they spread their wings, launch themselves into the void and flight. Soon they are flying over the sea. Icarus feels a sense of freedom such as he had never experienced. Joy invades him. In the beginning, it is smooth and quiet but as the speed increases he hears the music of the wind playing in the complex cordage of his wings. His father watching him tells him not to fly too high or too low. He has goose bumps because he is no longer used to the cool wind on his skin. The light and heat which troubled him in the labyrinth now attracts him. The waves of the sea are no longer visible -only the reflected golden sunlight. Intoxicated by freedom he takes advantage of his father’s inattention to fly towards the sun. The heat of the sun’s rays is like a delicious caress. In its gentle and tender embrace he feels so good that he closes his eyes with pleasure. Panting he works his wings faster and faster. The sensual feeling of being brushed by the wind redoubles his efforts. Perspiration trickles from his body. All at once a slight pain makes him open his eyes: melted wax has dropped onto his calves. With horror he realises that his wings have begun to lose their feathers: he is falling. Then he sees that a partridge coming out of nowhere accompanies his descent. He screams in fear. Suddenly he hears his cousin’s voice clearly: “Do not be afraid. This is a bad moment but afterwards you will be with me.” He feels he is falling upside down. Fear disappears and ecstasy fills him. The light he so desired and the blue of the sea now come to meet him. It is no longer necessary to move: he is at the end of his quest and will traverse the mirror.
4.1. It is the evening. Now a bird he plays with Thalos. For a moment they look at his father and the bloodied corpse in his tight embrace. Then they flight away, far away to a place where no one could hurt or separate them. Here there is neither fear nor pain -only Love and Light.
4.2. People say that they became young men and were welcomed into the Elysian Field They become partridges only when they visit the earth – once every thousand years to whisper their names in men’s ears. For as long as their names live on they also will continue to be.
4.3. Maybe Icarus lives in some of us; that’s why he changes face so often.
He lives in those who love the Light and fly freely towards the immensity at risk of being perceived as crazy by this dehumanised society …With fragile means and through thick and thin, they dare to achieve their dreams…
Dear Friend, can you see the traces of Icarus?
Copyright Eric ITSCHERT, Brussels, 8 april 2009.
Icarus, details installation, © Eric Itschert