Last week, while walking down Marylebone Road, i saw a sign pointing to an exhibition of works by graduating students from the University of Westminster MA Photojournalism. I'm not one to miss a photo show when i pass by it.

One of the most stunning photo series was In the Shadow of Faded Dreams by Zlata Rodionova. The young photo reporter traveled to Star City, a small town near Moscow that hosts the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, the heart of the Russia Space Programme. She encountered nostalgia for a time when the USSR was a Space Superpower, poor living conditions, impressive machinery and an inextinguishable passion for the cosmos.

The idealism of the Soviet Space programme speaks of serving humanity and a belief in peaceful future. However, politics has left a negative trace on these ideas and we often associate Gagarin with the tense atmosphere of the Cold War. Still, for people working at the Yuri Gagarin Training Centre, a military complex where all cosmonauts have been trained since the 1960s, Gagarin remains a hero while space is the only reality they know, almost blending with the surreal machines they work with, they seem to be trapped in a window of time. In the shadow of faded dreams, thus sheds the light on a close-knit community of space-lovers, still clinging to the decaying legacy of the 1960s Space dream.

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Hydrolab Instructor: The instructor's role is to help cosmonauts to adjust the lift, drift the balance and guarantee their safety when they train underwater. A training that can last up to six hours. The trainer wished to remain anonymous. Photographed by Zlata Rodionova, Copyright © Zlata Rodionova

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Tsf-18 Centrifuge: The world's largest centrifuge in an indoor space. It has a rotating arm of 18m in length and can simulate up to 30g with a payload mass of 350kg. The only training equipment that could easily kill a man within the centre. Photographed by Zlata Rodionova, Copyright © Zlata Rodionova

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Vintage telephones from the 1960s. The two phones were used by Gagarin during his lifetime. One was used to call within Star City, the other to reach Moscow. Both devices still work although no one dares to use them. Photographed by Zlata Rodionova, Copyright © Zlata Rodionova

I contacted Zlata to know more about the conditions in which she made the photo series. I suspected that the stories she'd tell me would be as fascinating as her images. And i haven't been disappointed...

In the past, Star City was a highly secret military installation and access to it was restricted. This is not the case anymore. How easy was it for you to visit the training rooms, talk with people working there, and document what you saw? Did you need to obtain special permissions? Could you roam free and photograph as you wanted?  

Indeed during Soviet Times, Star City's location was kept secret. Most ordinary Russians had only vague ideas about its location. The lucky few that had the chance to visit it (through jobs or rare state organised 'excursions') revealed that Communist's ideals promised by the State could only be seen and enjoyed there.

Today it is very different as you can visit it as a tourist, pretty much everyone in Russia knows where it is, however it is quite expensive.

For instance, the 'Russian Space Museum Tour' cost $165. You basically have to choose what exactly you want to see within the city or the centre but there is not really a tour that encompasses everything. So for me it quickly became evident that for my story to be told the way I wanted I would need to obtain a special press access.

It was very difficult to get. While explaining my project I often said that going there felt like travelling back in time to the Soviet era. For me this journey started at the very early stages, as when obtaining papers I had to deal with proper Soviet style administration. One call to one office led to another. I had to obtain different permissions to live in the city's hotel, be able to walk around the city freely and a separate one for the training centre. As in soviet times the person on the desk could not give me any information as long as the head or deputy-head of the administration was not there. If the person in question was on holiday I would have to wait for days. I don't know what it would have been like for a foreign photographer, as the first question I would be asked was "Do you have Russian passport?", which fortunately I do.

The process became a bit easier when I commissioned my story to the Russian political weekly magazine Profile which regularly runs photo-reportages alongside more political and business orientated articles. With their support (they were more keen on working with an accredited photographer than an MA student), I was given access and allowed to live within Star City in the hotel Orbita for two weeks. In the whole it took me a month to get all the papers I needed.

Once on site, I could walk around freely in the residential area and document it in depth as well as discover its spirit and people but the training facility remained a closed zone. I was only allowed to be there on particular times, specific areas and always accompanied by someone from the media team or one of the instructors. Also when international crews would be training I was not allowed to photograph as it meant I would have to get another authorisation from NASA.

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Zvezda Service Moduke. Photographed by Zlata Rodionova, Copyright © Zlata Rodionova

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Gucilnikov Alexei Anatolivich, Head of Department of training on Soyuz TMA machines. Photographed by Zlata Rodionova, Copyright © Zlata Rodionova

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Training Simulator TDK 7ST2. Photographed by Zlata Rodionova, Copyright © Zlata Rodionova

How big is Star City? How many people are living and working there?  I'm interested in the size of the place because many of the photos show huge rooms with machines, cockpits, training simulators but there is no animation, no people busy working on it, getting in or out of the capsules for example. You mostly show people posing for a portrait. Is Star City so vast and desolate? Or was it just your choice to depict it like that?  

Star City itself is a small town about 25km of Moscow, it is within this town that you can find the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre but they are two distinct areas and have two distinct administrations. They divided in 2009 when the town itself became subordinate to Moscow Oblast (Moscow region) while the centre is administrated by Roscosmos.

The city has about 6,500 inhabitants. Approximately one-third of whom are pensioners aged 60 to 90 years. This year the city will even celebrate the 100th birthday of one of its citizens. Most of them are former employers of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC).

The city was an intriguing place. To me it felt as if I was in an Soviet sanatorium or pensioner's retreat but one dedicated to Gagarin, his statues and portraits gaze at you from every corner while you can buy your groceries at the supermarket Little Star or go for lunch at the cafeteria Little Sun. On the days where I couldn't photograph there were old people sitting by the lake sun bathing. But the glory of the olden days is definitely gone. The town has not received any funding since the nineties, and the flats have not been renovated since the sixties. For many residents hot water or heating is a treat that only occurs on occasional days.

The training facility itself is a place of visual contradictions - colourless decaying buildings are aligned in an orderly way, however inside you discover machines that you could only expect to encounter in Stanislav Lem's science-fiction novels.

For my project, I decided to focus predominantly on the training centre, as Star City's residents' lives revolve around it and it is there that you can see all the commitment, relationship between men and machines as well as the last glimpses of the Soviet Space dream. While walking around it, you can see people are working and it is more active than shown in my pictures, however as the physical space and machines are huge it always seems pretty empty. The atmosphere that comes out of this gives you the impression of walking through a dream that is slowly fading away, I wanted to capture the strange magic locked beneath the surface in order to reveal the nostalgia associated to the USSR's status of Space superpower and shed the light on a close-knit community of space-lovers, still clinging to the legacy of the 1960s Space dream.

Thanks to the use of my medium format camera, the Leica S2, 30 x 45 mm in size, which often had to be used on a tripod due to poor lighting conditions within the training centre, I managed to create a distance both physical and psychological between myself and my subjects. The aim was to create a surreal, respectfully distanced and neutral mood leaving the viewer to make his own opinion about my pictures and this particular place.

Being motivated by the desire to uncover the unknown, understand its purpose, and display its majesty this format also permitted me to show all the surrealism and grandeur of these gigantic training devices. Finally, this camera, does not allow you to take photographs in an instant, it requires more installation and planning, which gave me two advantages. First, it offered time for my subjects to open themselves up to me, and gave me the opportunity to shed the light on individuals that traditionally do not receive such attention. Second, the photograph produced is still, detailed and frozen, which helped me to suggest a community and place fixed in time in a volatile moment in the country's history.

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Module of the International Space Station (ISS). Photographed by Zlata Rodionova, Copyright © Zlata Rodionova

The Russian space program seems to be pretty active though. I was reading this morning about the Soyuz capsule returning to Earth. Did your visit to Star City and the discussions you had with the people working there make you perceive space missions as adventurous and glamorous as ever? How much has your experience there changed or reinforced your perception of space travel?

One of the Russian space industry's main problems is financing. A third of the industry's enterprises are practically bankrupt. Compared to developed countries, Russia invests ten times less in research and development in the industry, and five times less in basic assets and personnel training.

Every single person that I spoke with: trainer, engineer, cosmonaut said that no one comes into this industry for money.

Also there is simply a loss of interest, if in the Soviet era cosmonauts were considered heroes and every single child dreamed of flying in the outer-space nowadays Russian schools don't run programs like astronomy anymore. I was amazed to find out that a cosmonaut who finished his military service, finished an MA in aerospace engineering, spent about 15 years training and 164 days in the outer space only received around $350 a month as well an allocated room within a shared flat for him, his wife and child. Another one told me he worked as a part-time taxi driver to make ends meet.

So the image I got out of there was definitely not the glossy one you get from US blockbusters with big rooms full of flat screens, and sleek looking man running around with perfectly ironed white shirts and coal black suits. The GCTC's people you see are probably from the most ordinary archetype you could imagine. Chubby smiling middle-aged men, or on the contrary older very dignified veterans, resembling the ones you see on postcards from the Soviet times. I also gained new respect for them, they really all are people of dreams. When asking the question what brought them here, most of them replied that they still remembered the day Gagarin was sent into space or the fact that they've been dreaming of flying to the stars since childhood. One of the trainers who works in the Hydrolab and couldn't qualify to be a cosmonaut said that after training cosmonauts for long hours under-water, at night he sometimes dreamed that he was himself walking in the outer-space.

They are all very aware of the crisis within the industry but no one wants to change jobs because it's simply their passion and they couldn't imagine their life without it. It does seem like they live in a bubble where time is standing still.

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Boricenko Andrei Ivanovitch, Cosmonaut, time in Space 164 days, 5 hours, 41 minutes: "It was once said that those who go into this profession are not romantics but fanatics. You need to be fanatically in love with Cosmos to pursue this career." Photographed by Zlata Rodionova, Copyright © Zlata Rodionova

What are you going to do now that you've graduated?

My main problem is that I have too many interests. Besides photography I have a real passion for writing. For me they complete themselves.

So right now I am really hoping to find a job as a writer on photography, and finish to build my online portfolio and website, which I couldn't concentrate on while doing my MA. I am also hoping to promote and sell my project to a magazines as I really want my story to get out there.

Once I build up a portfolio strong enough and wider range of contact I would ultimately like to become a foreign correspondent.

Thank you Zlata!

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Gagarin Yuri Alekseyevitch, First Man in Space. Photographed by Zlata Rodionova, Copyright © Zlata Rodionova

More information in Source and in the book In the Shadow of Faded Dreams.

Sponsored by:





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Space Maintenance / Lost in Space, 2012. Installation view at EB&Flow, London

Time machines, false memory, earthly landscape, moon rock gardening, flying saucers, lunacy, galactic adventures and the occasional rabbit. That's the world sketched by Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser. Roughly speaking, Sue is a printmaker and Hagen is a 'New New Media' artist but together they are more than the sum of their parts, they are We Colonised the Moon.

The work of WCTM is clever and nonsensical, dreamy and rooted in techno-scientific experiments. It is driven by its own logic. I'm not sure that the interview below is going to lift the whole mystery behind their work but i certainly had a lot of fun in the attempt.


Authentic Goods from a Realistic Future, at EB&Flow, London

Hello Sue and Hagen! I discovered your work a year ago, when you were showing '101 Harmless Scientific Experiments To Try At Home' at the Acme Project Space in London but you've obviously worked on many ideas and projects right after that. What are you up to this Summer?

Sue: This summer we have had two shows running, at EB&Flow in London and Villa Rosenthal in Germany. The shows are both mostly dealing with work we have done together over the last couple of years. Most recently we have been working on ideas about astronaut training and space maintenance, shooting a lot of videos and building moon rocks out of authentic moon dust simulant.

Hagen: This is definitely the direction we are focusing on now. Installation, video projection, artefacts, movement and performance. We started more 2D for sure because we came together through making graphic work, we continue to make prints but most of the time we're working on installations now.

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Taste of the Universe, 2012. Villa Rosenthal, Jena

You come from different backgrounds. Sue is involved in printmaking and illustration while Hagen used to work mostly with video and conceptual art. How did you two get to work together?

Sue: Pure accident. We literally bumped into each other at a bus stop in Norway. Hagen was in a residency programme at the Nordic Artists' Center in Dale (NDK) and I was visiting to make a short illustration project about forests and star constellations there.

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At NKD, Norway, 2008

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At NKD, Norway, 2008

Hagen: It all started a bit like RUN DMC and Aerosmith working together as studio neighbours.
When I met Sue I had just finished a DIY particle collision experiment in my studio. Whilst the first beam of the Large Hadron Collider was fired I was riding my bike in circles over wet paint for ages until I was hell dizzy!

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Idyllica (Nordica)

Sue: Dale is surrounded by the most amazing Norwegian mountain and fjord landscapes. We made an expedition to Sognefjellet, a Photoshop perfect wilderness, and had endless discussions about how reality is constructed. In the process we discovered some shared interests. We both had backgrounds in science and media. My parents were chemists. Hagen was a junior astronomer in an observatory close to Heidelberg in Germany. I worked for a spell in advertising and multimedia. Hagen had been an art director for a design agency.

Hagen: Through endless hikes and talks about The Clangers, YPS, Blue Peter, Particles, Heinz von Foerster, Constructivist epistemology and so on somehow we came to the point where we thought it could be an interesting idea to work on a project together.

Sue: The ideas we generated during this trip were so fun that I definitely wanted to work like this more. And it was obvious Hagen had absolutely no idea about printmaking!

Hagen: True. I thought only about my little A4 laser jet. Oh boy :) But she convinced me the quick cartoon style sketches I make for my works would work really well as silkscreens. So this is how a nature encounter, theory, two different illustration styles, childhood interests, professional skills and ink became the starting point for our collaboration ... and even our name WE COLONISED THE MOON is made in Norway. Out of this small joint illustration / print project it became now an ongoing and growing collaboration since 2008.

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Approved for all Ages, 2008-2010

You've '(re-)created' the smell of the moon in at least two exhibitions. How did you do that? How much of the result is the fruit of your imagination? Is this a pleasant smell?

Sue: Astronaut Charlie Duke, the tenth man to walk on the moon, said it was not unpleasant. The Apollo astronauts were drawn from the military. I think they knew what they were talking about when they likened the smell to gunpowder. Naturally this is their frame of reference but that's how we all interpret sensory information. I like the smell of burnt matches myself.

Hagen: No one can smell the moon directly of course. The vacuum in space prohibits this. But this gritty tacky meteor bombarded dust on the surface gets on to their spacesuits and back into the LEM. Then there is this massive reaction with oxygen and moisture. The loose molecules go off like firecrackers and generate the smell they experienced.

Sue: So, we had the smell synthesised by Steve Pearce, a chemist who is an international aroma expert in the UK. He makes flavours and smells commercially for his own company and had been approached by NASA some years ago to work on the smell of space for astronaut training.

Hagen: What's attractive to us about this phenomena is the strong link between smell and memory and the association with place, whether it's real or imagined is actually the crux the work we make hangs on.

Sue: Curator Caro Verbeek from the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam knew we were working on the idea of space aromas and asked us to make a piece for her for the event "Do It Smell It" on olfactory art in 2010. We came up with the idea of a scratch and sniff postcard from the moon. A momento from a place most people will never go. A fictional memory.

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Moon Scratch Sniff, 2010

Hagen: Then in 2011 for a commission from The Arts Catalyst and FACT Liverpool we created an installation for the exhibition Republic of the Moon. Visitors could enter (on own risk) a film-set like test chamber. Periodically an astronaut resprayed an array of "authentic" moon rocks with synthesised lunar aroma. As longer you stayed in the environment as more you got pollinated with moon smell. After you left, the smell travelled for several hours with you on your clothes out into the city.

Sue: At the moment we are also doing a lot of "Live Moon Smellings" using helium balloons and pins! We have enough smell left to pollinate an area twice the size of the Olympic stadium.


Enter at Own Risk, 2011 at FACT, Liverpool

What's behind the name We Colonised the Moon?
Do you feel bound to do certain types of works that involve science, space because of it? If, for example, you'd decide to develop vegan cooking projects one day, would you do it under a different name?

Sue: I guess it's really a kind of band name. A comment one of us made when we saw how lunar the glacier region we visited in Norway looked. It just stuck.

Hagen: The truth is the name comes from an encounter with an electricity pylon. Surrounded by this pristine wilderness the pylon looked like the first man made structure on a virgin planet -- which more or less then created the idea that this might be what it looks like when we start to colonise the moon.

Sue: So no, we're not necessarily all about science or space or pylons. We just started there.

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The WCTM Pylon, somewhere around Sognefjellet, Norway, 2008

By the way, Hagen can you tell us what are the scope, objectives and functions of the Institute of General Theory?

Hagen:

The Institute of General Theory is a project of indeterminate duration, for anything. It operates in an undefined area, in the grey zone where there is no distinction between fiction and science, art and craft, independent work and self exploitation; between game, experiment and paid work, between experimental and studio space, or between museum and university.
Jean-Baptiste Joly, Akademie Schloss Solitude, 2007.

After I graduated in 2001 at Merz Akademie Stuttgart, the Institute of General Theory became, besides my daily agency design job, my independent playground for experimental projects. Then, when I became a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2005 the Institute turned into my full time artistic career. It's my operational format and combines pretty much everything I am interested in since early childhood until today in a professional dilettante way.

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Institute of General Theory, 2007, at Hall Farm, Vermont, USA

I have another question for you, Hagen, your short bio says that your "artistic practice is exploring the gaps and connections between art and science to create New New Media." I sometimes write about the connections between art and science so i'm interested in your mentioning of the gaps between them? What are the most interesting/fascinating gaps between art and science? And should they remain gaps or should they somehow be made to disappear?

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Hagen: Working with scientists is mostly fun and generates often interesting results for both sides. But academic artistic research makes me grumpy! There is a lot of art-science-art, science-art-science that takes itself way too serious that even tumbleweed would stop to roll. New New Media is Post Artistic Research, liberated from University fantasies about how things should be done according to the most recently developed textbooks.

Sue: I grew up with the Clangers and Blue Peter and a DIY attitude to life. What I like about the way Hagen operates is I can walk right in and join in without worrying if we do it right. Misunderstanding is actually even productive.

Hagen: In the last couple of years there is so much sophisticated theory that it is sometime hard to see the art behind it. I am not saying my own work is not based on mountains of theory but I like to offer the observer first an enjoyable view and if he wants he can go and discover as much more as he wants in my landscape and not the other way around.

Sue: This suits me too. I think theory like technology should not be the thing you notice first.

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101 (Mostly) Harmless (Almost) Scientific Experiments to Try At Home (video)

Last summer, you were showing 101 (Almost) Harmless (Mostly) Scientific Experiments to Try at Home in London. Could you share some of them with us?
And explain us how we could replicate one or two of them home too?

Hagen: Haha! The biggest experiment was definitely being holed up together for two months in ACME Project Space, a studio in Bethnal Green. Two options, homicide or art.

Sue: Indeed! Normally we work together on and off for say a couple of weeks max at a time and in between the work goes on online. This was altogether a different experience.

Hagen: The project was inspired actually by a children's book on science from the 1950s I think. You know the kind of thing. Make Your Own Atomic Bomb in 5 Easy Lessons.

Sue: What people want to get up to in the privacy of their own homes is their business. Mostly I guess it does not involve black holes but I think amateur science is a great tradition which should be encouraged. So we decided to tackle anti-gravity with an electric hoist, built our own design for a future satellite disguised as an asteroid and began a campaign against cosmic rays.

Hagen: From what I learnt the Scottish Enlightenment seems to have taken place mostly in the pubs of Leith. I have no problem with that. Dilettantism was always a powerful driving force for progress and only in recent times has it become this negative aftertaste. I am very happy to be a professional Dilettante!


101 (Mostly) Harmless (Almost) Scientific Experiments to Try At Home

Any upcoming projects, exhibition, residency, public presentation you could share with us?

Sue: The next thing we are definitely participating in this year is a special three day "Kosmica" festival at Laboratorio Arte Alameda with curator Nahum Mantra in Mexico City. "Republic of the Moon" will also travel on from Liverpool too and some more actions are in the pipeline.

Hagen: Also in September my latest work as the Institute of General Theory, "A Bucket full of Particles" will be part of On Dilettantism a wonderful show curated by Frank Motz at Halle 14, at Spinnerei in Leipzig, Germany.

... and of course ... (say it loud now!) ... NO COSMIC RAYS!

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NO COSMIC RAYS, 2012

Thanks Sue and Hagen!

Authentic Goods from a Realistic Future is at EB&Flow, London until 1st September, 2012
Coming up:
On Dilettantism, Halle14, Spinnerei, Leipzig will open on 15th September and run till 18th November, 2012. It does look like a wonderful show indeed.
Kosmica Mexico will land at Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Mexico City, from 27th to 29th September, 2012
"Space Adventures #1" at Villa Rosenthal closed a few days ago.

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It's hard to believe that the first tourist flight into space might already be planned for next year. But Joseph Popper is probably not very impressed by the prospect because he came up with an idea so bold even Richard Branson would think twice before funding it. The designer believes that there aren't many unknown territories for men to explore, really. One of the very few thrilling adventures left to mankind would be to send one person on a voyage into deep space from where they will not return.

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And that's exactly what The One-Way Ticket proposes to do.

He obviously didn't test the idea himself but designed film-making props, contraptions and sets that follow the dogma 'zero gravity, zero budget'. The final short film comprises a collection of episodes transmitted from the spacecraft.

I need to repeat the idea: Send. One. Person. In. Space. Without. The. Prospect. Of. Ever. Coming. Back. And so i asked all the silly questions for you. Because that's what i'm here for.

Hi Joseph! Your project proposes to send one person on a voyage into deep space from where they will not return. Who would want to go on such journey?

I believe a person willing to go would not be so hard to find. The project emerged from an observation that we are running out of unknown frontiers to explore in the expedition sense - certainly on our own planet and it's near surroundings. Mount Everest, Antarctica and even the Moon have all transformed in our imagination from mythical bastions of discovery into touted destinations for extreme tourism. I am interested in this predicament, particularly surrounding ideas of space travel.

I propose a one-way journey as one of "the last adventures". This is how skydiver Felix Baumgartner described his attempt to break the record for the highest, fastest jump from the edge of Earth's atmosphere - so maybe he would want to go?

Is there a panic button? An emergency exit for the lonely traveler? Or is there really no way they can ever get back to earth? Is his or her wellbeing onboard ever monitored or catered for?

In my mind there is no panic button, no emergency exit, no return. The wellbeing for the astronaut is certainly catered for in order for them to complete the mission. In the project I focused more on different aspects of the astronaut's experience inside the space capsule, rather than the external workings of the mission architecture.

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Do you have an idea of how far away in space the spaceship would be able to go? Or would it just rotate around the Earth?

The spacecraft passes Mars on what is essentially a fly-by mission, before continuing in the direction of Jupiter - eventually reaching around 90 million miles away from the Earth. The total duration is 2 years before oxygen, nutritional and other supplies are scheduled to run out. The aim is for the astronaut to be the first to reach Lower Mars Orbit, and then to travel on as far as they possibly can - this is premise for the adventure.

What about communication with the Earth? Is there any?

The issue of communication with Earth has certainly been an important part of my research. The further we travel away from Earth we are subject to longer and longer delays in our communication with it: when you reach Mars it takes about 27 minutes for any sort of transmission from your spacecraft to reach home. It is therefore impossible to hold a normal conversation between two distant planets, and this factor contributes to psychological issues that include isolation, loneliness and also boredom.

But is it technically possible? How would the rocket or spaceship be powered for such a long period of time? And does the spaceship ever return to earth or does it become space junk?

In designing the mission scenario I have tried to abide by existing space mission principles and hardware. Archived mission plans that were never realised have also been important starting points for deciding on the trajectory of the spacecraft and time frame of the voyage. So yes, I will say it is technically possible to send someone beyond Mars with the technology we have today.

The path is based on a route that requires the lowest energy consumption - employing a series of Hohmann transfers. This is where the spacecraft would use a short, powerful engine burn to escape Lower Earth Orbit before using the momentum to coast towards Mars for 258 days. The same principle would then apply for escaping Mars orbit to continue on its path... to eventually become space junk.

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Film set

The text accompanying the work in the exhibition says "the exhibited works are a response to research into a range of human factors particular to the mission that also underline its extraordinary nature." Could you tell us what these human factors are? Are they physical? Emotional? and what the lone trip has to do with them?

The human factors range across many different issues - from the physical to the psychological and philosophical. Many of these directly relate to existing concerns and research around actual long duration space missions, and also to living in more hostile environments like Antarctica or on the International Space Station. However, when you simply take "coming back" out of the equation many of the questions are thrown wide open again.

If you don't come back to Earth: you will be forever weightless, you will never need to stand up again, the sun never sets or rises, you will never eat fresh food again (apart from whatever you can grow), you will lose sight of Earth for the last time, you never leave the confines of your capsule.

These hint at some of the various questions I explored in my research, leading to some very interesting debates and conversations with different experts. We can find many examples in space mission analogues that simulate certain aspects of a one-way voyage. However what struck me most is that, as we are talking about something completely unprecedented, we can only ever really speculate on what such a voyage would be like until someone actually goes.

Thanks Joseph!

All images courtesy Joseph Popper.
Joseph is going to talk about this project at Test_Lab: The Graduation Edition 2012 at V2_ in Rotterdam on July 5.

7th episode of the art and science show i've been recording for ResonanceFM.

Just like last week, i went to Battersea to interview some of the new graduates of the Design Interactions department at RCA.

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Nimbus MkIII - a 'pareidolic robot' that identifies forms and faces in clouds

In order of appearance: Joseph Popper proposes to send one person on a journey into deep space from where they will never return, Neil Usher designed a robot that finds human faces in the clouds, Shing Tat Chung looks at what would happen if traders and estate agents gave free reign to superstition and Tobias Revell talks about the timeline that charts the history of power up to the early 22nd century and how that 24/7 banking ship fits into the picture.

The radio show is broadcast tomorrow Monday 2nd July at 16.30 (GMT.) There will be a repeat on Thursday at 22.30. You can catch it online if you don't live in London. And of course we have podcasts (i just need to find a good place for them on the blog.)

I hope you like it!

There's an exhibition featuring sci-fi, history, video games, sexuality, soap operas, censorship and a powerful sense of humour at Cornerhouse in Manchester right now. The show is called Subversion and it questions and knocks around whatever assumption you might have about an homogenous 'Arab world', whatever image politicians and the media might have given you about its culture and identity.

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Larissa Sansour, Palestinauts. Installation shot. Photo credit WeAreTAPE.com

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Khaled Hafez, Of Presidents and Superheroes, 2009

Curator Omar Kholeif explained in an interview with Film International: I worked with artists [...] who wanted to dissent, poke fun, critique and re-define themselves as artists of the imagination, and not of any specific social or political condition. Together they reference a deep culture of subversion that traces back to the 1940s and 50s with the work of the Egyptian trickster, Ismail Yassin, whose slapstick film performances poked fun at the roles that many Arabs had to play under a militarised social condition. With Subversion we bring this narrative up to date for the good of our artists and our audiences.

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Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus, 2009

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Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus, 2009

The show opens on the video of a Palestinian astronaut landing on the moon. Given the fact that the Nakba has been going on for 64 years now, one wouldn't be surprised to hear that one day, the empty celestial body might become yet another place of refuge for the uprooted population. Larissa Sansour's A Space Exodus propels a Palestinian astronaut into an adaptation of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Referencing Neil Armstrong's moon landing, a voice can be heard saying that this was 'a small step for a Palestinian, a giant leap for mankind'.

Meanwhile, small Palestinauts are quietly invading the exhibition floor....

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Larissa Sansour, Palestinauts, 2010

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Larissa Sansour, Palestinauts, 2010. Installation shot. Photo credit WeAreTAPE.com

Upstairs, Sansour is showing another project, the preview of The Nation Estate, a work conceived in the wake of the Palestinian bid for nationhood at the UN. The Nation Estate gained fame after Lacoste attempted to censor it by withdrawing its sponsorship for a photo prize to which the young artist had been shortlisted.

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Larissa Sansour, Jerusalem Floor, part of The Nation Estate, 2012

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Larissa Sansour, Lobby, part of The Nation Estate, 2012

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Larissa Sansour, Olive Tree, part of The Nation Estate, 2012

In this sci-fi photo series (which will later be accompanied by a video), Palestinians have finally been conceded their own state in the form of a single skyscraper. Erected outside the city of Jerusalem and unsurprisingly surrounded by concrete walls, the building of 'the Nation Estate' houses the entire Palestinian population. Each city has its own floor: Jerusalem is on the third floor; Ramallah, fourth floor; Bethleem, fifth floor; Nablus, sixth floor; Gaza, seventh floor, etc. Intercity trips previously hindered by checkpoints and soldiers are now made by elevator.


Colorful Journey, Trailer

Tarzan and Arab live in Gaza (i was going to write 'come from' but that would suppose that they are allowed to get freely in and out of the territory), a region that has not had a functioning cinema since the 1980s. The artists didn't go to a film school either. Everything they learnt about cinema, they learnt through practice and by watching movies on satellite TV and illegal DVD copies. In 2003, they founded a media production company: Gazawood. Since then, their works have won awards, been banned by Hamas and shown in Europe and the U.S.

Cornerhouse is showing Colourful Journey, a short film set in a bombed-out Gaza building, and a series of posters that pastiche the Hollywood war movie genre. The title of each film sounds as action movie as it is possible: Summer Rain, Autumn Clouds, Defensive Shield, Sea Breeze, Cast Lead, etc. The cruel irony is that each of them is also the name of a Israeli military operation against Palestinians.

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Tarzan and Arab, Colourful Journey poster from the Gazawood Project, 2010

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Tarzan & Arab Posters from the Gazawood Project, 2010. Installation shot. Photo credit WeAreTAPE.com

Wafaa Bilal is showing a video documenting the furore that surrounded the exhibition of Virtual Jihadi. The video is mounted on the wall of a rundown internet café where visitors are also invited to sit down and play the game.

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Wafaa Bilal, Virtual Jihadi, 2008. Installation shot

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Wafaa Bilal, Virtual Jihadi, 2008

Wafaa is from Iraq and, as is sometimes the case in his work, he plays with the way Western media portrays people from his home country.

Virtual Jihadi can be traced back to a military computer game called The Quest for Saddam that involved players fighting stereotypical Iraqi enemies and trying to kill the ex-Iraqi leader. The game in turn inspired an al-Qaida-produced spin-off called The Night of Bush Capturing with the ex- U.S. president as the target. For his piece, Bilal hacked into the al-Qaida game and inserted himself as a converted suicide bomber, who joins al-Qaida after learning that his brother has been murdered by US forces.

Bilal's version brings the attention to the personal sories and dilemmas experienced by civilians caught in a conflict zone. It also demonstrates that games of this kind, no matter who is writing them, leave little space for moral choices and subtlety. In fact, both were made to teach hate.

In March 2008, as he had just released Virtual Jihadi, Bilal gave a talk at the Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute (the video is available online) and an exhibition of Virtual Jihadi opened the same night... to be closed the day after.

Wafaa Bilal's installation re-opened a few days later in another gallery. Unfortunately, one day after the second opening the City of Troy censored the work again and closed the gallery due to "code volition."


Art ≠ Terrorism

In I've heard stories - part 1, Marwa Arsanios attempts to piece together rumors surrounding the now demolished Hotel Carlton. The hotel was a popular meeting place for gay men living in Beirut, Lebanon where homosexual acts are considered illegal. In its time (1973 to 1993), the hotel was also the setting of three murders that might or might not have been related to the sexual encounters. Among the victim of these (probably) passionate crimes was Lebanese politician and businessman Henri Pharaoun. The nature of the murders went unreported and Arsanios' reconstruction of the event blends drawings and videos, gossips and facts, in an effort to give the crime a place in the history of the city.

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Marwa Arsanios, I've heard 3 stories, 2009

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Marwa Arsanios, I've heard 3 stories, 2009. Installation shot. Photo credit: WeAreTape.com

Subversion is on show in Galleries 1, 2 & 3 until Tue 5 June.
They have a fantastic set of images from the show on flickr (i still need to upload mine.) I wish more art centers would be as generous as Cornerhouse is with the online documentation of their events. Also check Creative Tourist next time you travel to Manchester and wonder what you can do/see in town.

Previously: A few words with Wafaa Bilal.

There's only one week left to head to Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and Middlesbrough and visit AV Festival, a biennial of contemporary art, music and film which main theme this year is As Slow As Possible.

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Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, 2011. Film stills courtesy the artist

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The astronauts: Neil, Svetlana, Gonzales, Valentina, Friede, Juri, Buzz, Kaguya-Anousheh, Irena, Rakesh, Konstantin-Hermann

One of the works on show is the extremely long-term project that sees Agnes Meyer-Brandis training a flock of young geese to fly to the moon. The whole training started last Spring and according to her schedule, the birds will go on their first unmanned flight to the satellite in 2024. However, the artist plans to accompany them on a later flight, most probably in 2027.

Meyer-Brandis' scientific experiment is inspired by The Man in the Moone, a story written in the early 17th century by English bishop Francis Godwin, a believer in the Copernican heliocentric system and of the latest theories in magnetism and astronomy. The book tells how Domingo Gonsales flies to the moon and gets to meet an advanced lunar civilization. The adventurer managed to escape the 'magnetic attraction of the earth' by harnessing a flock of birds called gansas, specifically trained for the purpose. Some critics regard the story as the first work of science fiction in English.

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Frontispiece and cover of the first edition of The Man in the Moone, 1638

Since it has become so difficult to locate moon geese, Meyer-Brandis breeds her own moon geese. She acquired the eggs last April, named each of them after an astronaut, placed them in an incubator, watched over them, witnessed the hatching and imprinted herself on to them as their stand-in mother, just like Konrad Lorenz did with greylag geese.

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Goslings following Konrad Lorenz as if he were their mother

The surrogate mother had to spend the weeks following the hatching in close contact with the eleven geese. The astronaut training started almost immediately, the young birds were encouraged to walk in a V-shape --the formation used to tow Godwin's chariot-- taken on expeditions into the mountains for high altitude training, taught how to use morse code devices for improved interspecies communication, and given lectures about astronomy and navigation.

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Moon geese sending morse code to the exhibition space. The Moon Goose Analogue (MGA) / Lunar Migration Bird Facility, Italy , 2011/12 @ the artist

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The birds are currently continuing their training at Pollinaria (Italy), in an analogue that simulates the conditions of the Moon. Visitors of the show The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility in Newcastle can see a scaled model of the remote analogue site, admire the portraits of the astronauts, watch a documentary of the experiment and follow the birds daily life through the screens in the control room at the back of the gallery.

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Antenna mast of the moon analogue in Italy, The Moon Goose Analogue (MGA) / Lunar Migration Bird Facility, Italy , 2011/12 @ the artist

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Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, 2011. Courtesy AV Festival. Photo Colin Davison

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Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, 2011. Courtesy AV Festival. Photo Colin Davison

Documentation of the project and installation The Moon Goose Analogue:

Agnes Meyer-Brandis: The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility is part of the AV Festival and you can see the film and installation at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle through 31 March, 2012.

The Lunar Migration Bird Facility was commissioned by The Arts Catalyst and FACT Liverpool. In partnership with: Pollinaria.

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Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, 2011. Film stills courtesy the artist

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Agnes Meyer-Brandis, The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility, 2011. Film stills courtesy the artist

Also on view at the AV Festival: Slow Motion Car Crash.
Previously: Cloud Core Scanner - an artistic experiment in zero gravity and Biorama 2: the Moon Goose Experiment.

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