Maryam Fanni
hej ⦾ maryamfanni • se / +46(0)735566214
MF is a graphic designer based in Stockholm.

Back to Index

It's hard to be down when you're up


The aerial photograph substitutes grounded perspective for that of the master plan, destroying the legitimacy of the human perspective, which can no longer confer a sense of reality.
– Karen Piper, Cartographic fictions – maps, race and identity

Against gravitation, as if there's some kind of magnetic force, people seem to be drawn to high summits. The ‘scenic overlook’ attracts locals, tourists, photographers, explorers, contemplators, climbers, cartographers, romantic couples, city planners, pilots, voyeurs, etc. But why are we drawn to summits and the view?

Close by, just a short walk through the forest from Mustarinda, the näkötorni (observation tower) is situated on top of the Kainuu region's second largest summit, Paljakka. Built in the summer of 2012, the tower measures 18 m in height. From the top, you have a 360° panorama view of the surrounding landscape, looking out over the Paljakka nature reserve to the southwest, in the opposite direction there’s Pieni (‘little’) and Iso (‘big’) Tuomivaara , and further, perhaps you can see all the way to Russia. What makes this gaze possible is a simple yet strong wooden construction, acting as a monument materializing the desire of distant horizons.

This is our point of departure: the seemingly perpetual desire of humans (and others?) to elevate up into the sky, as far as they can, if it's only by climbing a tree, a roof top, hill, or mountain, in order to see, and subsequently – learn, conquer, secure, own. The project deals with a broad range of aspects concerning this state of being, both mentally and physically, ‘on top’. And is this longing upwards at all ‘natural’? The paradox of feeling safe up on a high point, with a good 360° view, being able to detect potential dangers from a distance, yet at the same time a vulnerable target, easily spotted from a distance due to the presence on a high elevation. Are we more safe or vulnerable up there?

Some consider the fear of heights, acrophobia, to be an evolutionary response to a world in which the amount of potentially dangerous falls are increasing. Just as much as we defy the limits of the ground level, human nature reacts to the unnaturalness of ascension, as we build higher buildings, dig deeper holes.

The desireable view transforms these places into optical artifacts and commodities. A restaurant on a high summit or at the top floor of a high building will most likely be expensive, and in some buildings you even have to pay to use the elevator. If you find binoculars up there, they probably need coins to function. But who cleans these windows to the world?

A further question: What are the political implications of the overlook? At the same time grasping it all, yet so far away from eveything, the overlook is used as a method to understand, navigate, plan, predict, and dream the surrounding world. ‘To make sense of the world around us’, claimed the Scottish urban planner Patrick Geddes, was a reason for opening the ‘sociological laboratory’ called the Outlook Tower in Edinburgh in 1892.

In his book, The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau quotes a poster at the Top of The World Observation Deck, on the 110th floor at the former World Trade Center, New York City: ‘It's hard to be down when you're up’. de Certeau describes ‘the fiction of knowledge’ as related to the lust of being ‘a viewpoint and nothing more’. This viewpoint from above reflects the distancing and disappearing act of escaping upwards, into the illusion of seeing more clearly, only to loose touch with the ground – the walkers, ‘the ordinary man’.

Collaboration with Rikard Heberling, 2013
With support from Iaspis (Swedish Arts Grants Committee's International Programme for Visual Artists)