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João Penalva, b.1949

The Great Wallenda1997

‘The Great Wallenda’ comprises a sound track of João Penalva whistling the entirety of Igor Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’, paired with footage of the last crossing of legendary tightrope walker Karl Wallenda. Known as the Great Wallenda, he died in 1978, at age 73, while attempting a high wire walk between two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The sound track was created after regular rehearsals with musician Colin Beynon and recording sessions with sound engineer Tristan Norwell. Penalva does not read music, and his personal documentation of the process, consisting of his notation corresponding to the 153 pages of the music score, as well as photographs of Beyon and Norwell, link the whistled score and images of Wallenda.
‘Like the Great Wallenda, I had to keep my balance. Breathing while, a step at a time, I advanced over the musical line stretched ahead of me; a seemingly endless and dangerous line because unknown. In my montaged version of the Great Wallenda news footage he is seen forever restarting his last stretch after his fatal loss of balance – a chance that, unlike me, he did not have’. João Penalva, October 1998.

MediumVideo (colour, sound), photographs, wall drawings
Credit LineIMMA Collection: Purchase, 2006
EditionEdition of 3
Item NumberIMMA.2004
Copyright For copyright information, please contact the IMMA Collections team: [email protected].
Image Caption
João Penalva, The Great Wallenda, 1997, Video (colour, sound), photographs, wall drawings, Collection Irish Museum of Modern Art, Purchase, 2006

For copyright information, please contact the IMMA Collections team: [email protected].

About the Artist

João Penalva b.1949

Portuguese artist João Penalva studied ballet at the London Contemporary Dance School. In 1976 he turned from dance to study painting at the Chelsea School of Art, London. From the early 1990s the use of texts and narratives became increasingly fundamental to his art, which explores the way in which culture is categorised and presented. Penalva has represented Portugal at Biennials worldwide. His work was the subject of a solo exhibition at IMMA in 2006.

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