The magic of kites

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

img_2909It’s magic month in the world of Aesthetics of Joy. I’m currently working on the chapter about magic and joy, which is all about the transcendence of natural law and human limits. One of the greatest constraints we face as humans is gravity, so it’s no surprise that a lot of joyful things happen to defy it. Unable to fly naturally ourselves, we derive a lot of joy from assisted flight (planes, hanggliders, hot air balloons) and from surrogates (kites, bubbles, birds).

The magic of kites lies partly in this defiance of gravity, but also in the way it plays with another human limit: visibility. As our dominant sense, vision is something we trust without question, but human vision actually operates within a pretty narrow range. We have trouble seeing anything smaller than 1/20th of a millimeter with the naked eye. So even though we know that air is not actually “empty” but rather filled with invisible particles that are constantly being moved around by wind and convection currents, we can’t see these in action. There is, then, a magic in anything that manages to make these invisible forces visible.

The unpredictable dance of a kite reveals these hidden forces in a beautiful, joyful way. And the design of kites, while deeply functional, is also geared towards aesthetically enhancing this emotional experience. Kite designers design for the wind, for the spectacle created by the kite’s movements, adding loose tails or wings that magnify the gyrations of the form. Color, usually bright and saturated, is used to draw maximum attention. And though there is poetry in a simple diamond kite, kite designers are going ever bigger and more intricate in their quest to provide a joyful spectacle.

These features are clearly in evidence among the kites exhibited last night at the FlyNY kite auction. Founded by a trio of architects, FlyNY is a kite-making competition and kite-flying festival aimed at bridging the gap between the design community and everyday New Yorkers, and bringing joy through the pleasure of kite-flying. The non-profit held their inaugural festival earlier this month in Riverside park, and hundreds of families showed up to make simple paper kites, while the more hardcore brought their own finely crafted designs. Yesterday, the kites were exhibited and auctioned off at the Knoll showroom to benefit Architecture for Humanity.

I’ll be interviewing FlyNY founder Victoria Walsh next week, so look for more kite thoughts then! You can see images from the kites and the festival here.

May 29th, 2009


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