“If you slip, you will still have three seconds to live,” says Whipplesnaith of The Night Climbers of Cambridge. Its air of bravado and temerity embodies the spirit of their elusive nocturnal pastime. During the 1930s, the society climbed buildings throughout Cambridge and took photographs of their activity. Unlike the action-packed nature of parkour, these images reveal an angsty and sometimes erotic relationship to classical architecture. Bodies squeezed between limestone columns. Young men pressed against façades, gripping tightly against railings. We see them gravitating towards buildings with this sense of urgency—onto them, as opposed to inside them—interacting in an unprecedented and often unhuman manner.
The lore of these rebels captured the attention of painter Hernan Bas, who has an instinctive draw towards unearthing myths. 032c’s Yae-Jin Ha spoke with the artist about his chance encounter with the Night Climbers legacy and why he thinks dandyism and paranormal activity are not that different.
Yae-Jin Ha: Your latest series “Cambridge Living” was inspired by your residency at Jesus College Cambridge. Tell me about your time there.
Hernan Bas: In the course of my time there in the fall of 2016, I wandered the streets of Cambridge, handled plant specimens at the Cambridge Herbarium collected by Charles Darwin on his voyage on the Beagle, led myself on a haunted Cambridge tour, convinced myself my room was not indeed haunted. I also met incredible scholars and writers, sat in awe as a guest of the High Table, toured the wetland Fens, sat in on an Evening Song at a church older than any found in the U.S., and fell in love with illuminated manuscripts at the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Image: Hernan Bas, Nightclimber (Drain Pipe Method), 2017. Acrylic on paper. 76.2 x 56 cm, 30 x 22 1/16 in