Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight

Night Flight
Night sky with paper planes

Floating planes at the VitraHaus

"He had been taken into an unfamiliar part of the sky which was hidden like a bay of the Blessed Isles. The storm below him made up another world which was three thousand metres deep, swept by gusts of wind and flashes of lightning, but towards the stars it turned a face of crystal and snow."

de Saint-Exupéry, A. (2016). Night Flight. Richmond: Alma Classics, p. 58

Nici Theuerkauf exhibited at the VitraHaus in Weil am Rhein in 2016. Her installation of floating planes appear to be dancing in the night sky high above the shifting perspective of the observer. 

The installation creates a memory of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight. The story, written in 1931, is about the pioneering days of air mail service. It jumps between Rivière, the airport station chief in Buenos Aires, and Fabien, one of his pilots. Rivière is expecting Fabien with the mail from Patagonia for a waiting transatlantic flight. He grows increasingly concerned when reports about bad weather arrive in his office. Fabien, on his way back from the south, encounters a cyclone that has unexpectedly crossed his path. Driven by determination, he flies straight into the storm and confronts

"the turmoil and the night, which kept pounding him with its black torrent, at the speed of a rockfall."

p. 53

Saint-Exupéry’s story explores the inner conflict between people’s sense of duty and their belief in progress against the cost of individual sacrifice.

"'The common interest is made up of individual interests: it can be justified in no other way.' 'And yet,' Rivière had replied to him later, "even if we can't put a price on human life, we still act as though there is something of higher value than human life... but what is it?'"

p. 51

Similar to the paper planes at the VitraHaus, the story follows Fabien’s journey through the thundering clouds and his final ascent into the moon-lid sky. When radio contact to Fabien’s plane is lost in the end, all hope for a safe return is gone. Rivière finally sends the waiting transatlantic flight off without the Patagonian mail.