Despite many a primary school drawing or text book illustration, a true scale model of our Solar System is unfeasible on paper.
Over the Summer, Louise O'Connor gave Londoners a chance to walk the Solar System and get a sense of its true vastness.
A walkable scale model has been installed along the road which begins at Kingsland Road in Dalston and finishes in Stamford Hill. During last Summer, local shopkeepers at appropriate points on the route have been acting as guardians to the planets - hosting models represented by everyday objects, at their correct sizes on this 3.1 km scale.
Passersby were invited to enter the shops and ask "the planetary guardians" to be shown the planet.
Although her project challenges school books representation of the solar system, Louise didn't have the heart to deprive Pluto from its planet prestige. "Pluto was actually demoted from planet status along in 2006 and is now classified as a dwarf or minor planet along with Eris and Ceres," Louise told me. "However, after growing up with Pluto as a planet, the model just didn't seem right without it..."
How did you get interested in the solar system and its physical representation at a more human scale?
Louise: Much of current design practice increasingly contains speculations borne from more and more complex and abstracted scientific developments, and fascinating as they are, (and I sincerely mean that!) I wondered whether, against this complex background, we can truly comprehend even the 'simple' things? And recognize that these 'simple' things can be truly wonderful and inspiring in themselves.
So in terms of the Solar System, the simplicity and almost prosaic nature of it as a concept, coupled with a typical lack of true conceivability of the scale in physical form, made it a good candidate and a very evocative thing to connect to and experience physically.
Personally, I remember particularly my own primary school solar system project, drawing similar 'scales' as I mentioned before in class, and then later that day, looking at the sunset in my grandma's garden, trying to imagine this thing called 'space', with such a massive sense of awe, which I haven't forgotten!
In terms of my wider practice, I am interested in how physical experience, and re - presentation (of both the 'everyday' and intangible concepts) can be used as playful tools for debate, engagement and shifting perspectives, as well as 'human' and hence absurd yet genuine ways in which we can attempt to connect to natural phenomena outside our physical experience.
And so over the course of the year, as a project, this has included many investigations into ways we may experience a variety of fascinating phenomena from different scales more physically and intuitively; incorporating singing, listening, animating, wearing, and of course dancing, and so this particular outcome came also as a natural development from these.
Why did you decide that the solar system walk would follow a straight line? Why not distribute the planets over a non-linear walk that would reflect the fact that some planet are on the east of others, etc. not sure if my question makes sense though...
Louise: Yes that definitely makes sense and is a good question!
Well, there were a few of reasons:
Firstly, despite the fact that the planets very rarely all truly align, the diagrams we typically draw as children or see around us predominantly show this image, so I wanted to reference that, and expand it into reality. It also demonstrates how even at their closest - if they were aligned - just how very far apart they still are, so of course usually they are much further!
Secondly, on a practical and experiential level, I felt it would be more fluid to connect and feel the distances through a straight (ish) line, as in, if people had to navigate around blocks etc, they might get lost, or take longer routes than needed. Similarly, my choice of using everyday objects rather than abstract spherical models came from similar reasoning - that it would be a more graspable idea if it were based on a size we already roughly know.
Lastly, I really like the idea of these historic routes of transit in the City, and repurposing them for my own absurd ends! The road this walk takes place on is part of what was Ermine Street or Earninga Straete (in 1012), one of Britain's major Roman Roads, going from London to York.
Saying that though I have been thinking about future scale walks (for other 'un-draw-able on paper 'scales) and I think that they certainly wouldn't have to always be in a line, perhaps the planets orbiting and moving location will be my next step!
Walk the Solar System is part of the Psychomythic Nature Quest series which aims at finding ways of representing and physically experiencing scientific knowledge and in particular the most unimaginable aspects of the natural world.
Interaction designer Nelly Ben Hayoun (whose works, Super K Sonic Booooum and The Soyuz Chair, you might remember) and geography researcher Dr Alison J Williams teamed up for Airspace Activism, a project that investigates the geographies of UK military airspaces which are used by air forces to train and prepare for combat situations.
One of the outcomes of Nelly and Alison's collaboration is the Theatre of the Air. A video using interviews with military pilots and navigators to understand how they perceive the geometries of the spaces through which they fly.
These airspaces exist in 3D volumes of space that can be activated and deactivated at different times. However, aviators only have two-dimensional air charts to 'see' these spaces, so they have to translate these mappings into three dimensions in their minds in order to be able to safely fly through them.
In order to make these invisible airspaces visible, Nelly and Dr. Williams worked on another project which will be the focus of this post. It's a 4 meters high windfarm that civilians could use to create radar white noise and prevent aircraft flying overhead, therefore reclaiming their piece of sky. An "audio-locator" --which a size is far more manageable that the acoustic locators used during the war before the invention of radar-- warns the user of any incoming aircraft and so that he or she has time to set the wind farm in motion.
The wind mill was exhibited this week in London and will be up again in another exhibition, in Newcastle this time, from 28th June until 7th July.
Can you tell me something about the location of your pieces? One is in London and the other in Newcastle? The London one doesn't seem to be a typical white space gallery though. Who chose the locations and why?
Nelly: A few words about the project itself, which I think will make sense with the location where it is presented in a disused WWII air raid shelter in Dalston for London and in an art space at the Exlibris Gallery, Newcastle University, in Newcastle.
This project seeks to make the invisible airspace visible. It achieves this through the construction of a vertical object that empowers us to take back control of these spaces reserved for military purposes.
During the early years of aviation aircraft flew at a relatively low altitude. However, laws existed that gave land-owners ownership of the entirety of the vertical space above the footprint of their house, including the air. This led to a myriad of problems for aviators and landowners who became locked in battle over payment for access to these spaces.
More recently, wind farms have become a contentious issue. Environmentalists either protest their building in areas of natural beauty, or cry out for their erection to reduce our dependence of fossil fuels and nuclear power. The military dislikes wind farms because they create no fly-zones in the sky, because of their production of radar white noise, which prevents aircraft flying over them.
This project synthesises these ideas, proposing an activism approach the focuses upon the idea of being able to generate and enact your own airspace though the deployment of a personalised wind farm. This creates a form of mechanical imperialism, through enabling control of an individual airspace.
The project is composed of a wind farm to use on your rooftop, and an audio locator that amplifies the sound of an aircraft engine. This enables the wind farm owner to hear an aircraft at distance and erect the wind farm in time to prevent the aircraft flying overhead.
A few weeks ago, while I was already working with Dr Alison J Williams on completing the design pieces for the Interventions exhibition in the The Exlibris Gallery in Newcastle, I was contacted by Space In Between, an arts-based collective operating in London. Space In Between was created in 2009 by the three young and very dynamic curators/artists Hannah Hooks, Laura MacFarlane and Ida Champion, who enjoy challenging emerging artists and designers by asking them to exhibit in unusual spaces such as this WWII air raid shelter bunker. This was really an opportunity not to be missed! Spaces such as this one really bring sense to the work and inform it as well with history and context.
It seems to me, that design is more than simply objects and should be embedded in an experience, something that will last in your memory like when you see a painting and you remember the tone of it. Those kinds of exhibition spaces really help to achieve that. They are performative by themselves, and prepare the audience to get into the experiences.
The pieces are now on their way to Newcastle University as part of the Interventions project, a project set by Joe Malia and Dr. Mónica Moreno Figueroa at Newcastle University's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. This project and exhibition pairs 6 designers with 6 social scientists from Newcastle University to come up with provocative, speculative and creative overlap between social and cultural research and design.
How did you come to collaborate with Dr Alison J Williams?
Nelly: We met though the Interventions project, over 8 weeks, we began our collaboration by Alison sharing her research with me, sending her written work and transcripts of interviews with military pilots and navigators. From this I identified several key elements that could inspire a design proposal. We discussed them and over the course of two days developed ideas to take forward.
I was really lucky in meeting Alison through this project, her research stimulated my existing interest in airspace and in designing for the invisible. I was fascinated by the vocabulary she uses and how imaginative it can be. She talks about how ' The aircraft ENACTS the air' , developing its own performance. How the aircraft is an 'assemblage', she explains about those 'hidden geographies' those ' vertical geopolitics' , how pilots ' book' their piece of air, what does 'flying in theater' means, 'volumes of airspace', the 'aerial sovereignty' of the aircraft... the airspace with Alison is a 'lived spatiality', 'a craft network'. So, yes, you can imagine my excitement when reading and meeting her in Newcastle!
Do these geographies of military airspaces have any impact on the life of ordinary people like us? Could my ryanair flight from Turin to Brussels pass through them? Are they located above cities for example?
Dr Alison J Williams: The geographies of UK military airspaces do have an impact on the general public in many ways, through low flying and through flying though airspaces that other airspace users also want to use. This only really affects the private pilot community however. UK airspace is segregated so there are civil airspaces which commercial aircraft use to travel from airport A to airport B. These are like aerial motorways that link airports, and are usually known as air lanes. There are other airspaces that are used by both private pilots and the military. These are found in rural areas of the UK, in Wales, North Yorkshire, East Anglia, North Scotland, Northern England, Cornwall. You can get more detailed information on these spaces from the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. All this information is in the public domain. The military trains in these spaces. In some of these areas segregated airspaces exist. These are usually called danger areas and are where the military can train but private pilots and commercial aircraft are not allowed to enter without authorisation. These are usually over military ranges or training facilities.
Your flight from Turin to Brussels would not be affected by UK military airspace as you wouldn't be flying through UK airspace. In any case UK airspace operates a system that keeps civil, private, and military aircraft separated. Civil aircraft would not fly through UK military airspace that is being used.
Nelly: The airspace is such a complex, regimented space. It's made of corridors of different heights. Each force has some piece of air reserved that they book for the day. Military aircraft are guided with different frequencies than touristic aircraft.
All of this is controlled so nobody crashes into each other. Somehow the visualization I have of it is like a swan lake choreography!
They don't have a clear impact on our daily life, except if you are a pilot, we all have a passive access to these airspaces, which I think is really unfair! We aren't able to perform in it. My practice is a lot about giving access to amateurs to expert domains. That's really what is the project about, making this invisible, inaccessible air Active to us, making it real and physical in our daily life.
I'm sure my question will seem very naive but why is 'radar white noise' a problem for these planes?
Nelly: When you are 'flying' a plane you received radio signal from radar to tell you your strict position that stop you from messing up with others people's pieces of air ( usually military forces such as navy) and give you an indication on your height in the air. When windfarm create those microwave radiation they stop radars (positioned usually on earth) to deliver those data, they create white noise in their radar which become then NO_FLIGHT zone for the pilots.
Alison: Radar white noise is a problem because it in essence blinds the radar in the aircraft, so the pilot can't use their radar to see what is around them. Wind farms generate white noise because they are large metal structures and as such military aircraft don't fly over them because it disrupts their radar systems.
Do you expect some retaliation for the UK military for the way that your windmill interact with their spaces?
Alison: This project, although based on research on military airspace, is not only about military airspace. The idea is to show how we can exert control over the airspace above our heads and through this prevent aircraft flying through it. It's not about targeting military aircraft flights. Military airspaces aren't above cities so the windmill would not be directly targeting military airspaces if it were placed in a suburban garden. Given these parameters I see no reason why the UK military would have any issue with the work.
Nelly: That will be very interesting. And ultimately the aim of the project, what will happen next? Will this DIY wild wind farms become the new target on military aircrafts?! No, but seriously, I do think that design must be engaged, It's 'Revolution time' for designers to assume their creative responsibilities, what is the point of putting another thing out there if there is no message? That can be poetic, aesthetic, functional, provocative, emotional, performance based... In any case, I will be there, reclaiming my piece of sky, waiting on the top of my pink windmill for a wild military aircraft to pass by!
Interventions Project / Newcastle University. Group show with Michiko Nitta, Grit Hartung, Dane Whitehurst Joe Malia, Robert Phillips, Ben Singleton, Stuart Munro
40 years after the first human left his foot print on the moon, space exploration is still the subject of enthusiasm, but also of debate about its justification. Scientific expeditions, satellite launches, and the emergence of space tourism are pushing us to reconsider our relationship with the planet.
While in Montreal for the Elektra festival, i went to the Canadian Center for Architecture to discover architects Greg Lynn, Michael Maltzan, and Alessandro Pol's views on space exploration and its impact on terrestrial realities. I'm still not sure why the 3 architects were brought together under the same roof but the diversity of their vision certainly made for an exciting ride.
In the exhibition Other Space Odysseys, Lynn, Maltzan, and Poli takes us on a journey, real and virtual, that will ultimately make us see life on our little blue planet under a different light. As CCA Director Mirko Zardini explained, "Other Space Odysseys has nothing to do with Space Architecture or architecture in outer space. It is not a celebration of high-tech architecture and imagery or extreme physical and mental conditions. Instead, this exhibition proposes a letting go of architecture understood as the production of material goods in favour of architecture as the production of ideas."
Alessandro Poli's vision of the Earth was changed radically by the 1969 moon landing. Suddenly the environment that man knew had to be described and reflected upon in broader terms. The earth was not the sole reference anymore. The most impressive, solid, the largest architecture man had ever conceived almost vanished compared to the scale of the universe
His projects in the exhibition explore different proposals for connecting the earth to the new reality of outer space. The film Architettura interplanetaria (1972) as well as the related collages and sketches, which he created as a member of the radical Italian architecture group Superstudio, imagine architecture at an interplanetary scale, with a highway that links the earth to the moon, family holidays in lunar landscapes and hybrid scenery featuring moon rocks and soccer fields.
Another of Poli and Superstudio's research projects challenged the optimism and technological dependence of space exploration through the personality of a Tuscan peasant called Zeno. Unlike the astronauts of the Apollo missions, who required sophisticated capsules and suits to survive in their new environments, Zeno used and reused the same objects to become completely self-sufficient. I didn't understand whether Zeno was a fictitious character or not but i doubt he ever met Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in Riparbella as Poli's 2008 collage would have it.
Greg Lynn's projects present a very different approach to architectural prospects offered by space exploration.
Animated movies and digitally fabricated models present New City, a parallel virtual reality in which all of the earth's inhabitants reside in a single, interconnected and manifolds city.
Also on view are models and documentation of N.O.A.H. (New Outer Atmospheric Habitat), four planets developed for the science fiction film Divide, as well as drawings and animation of space colonies that explore the notion of 'ground' in the absence of gravity.
Michael Maltzan's proposed new building for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California. His designs attempt to reflect the dichotomy between earthbound scientists and their work at the scale of outer space.
Other Space Odysseys is curated by CCA Curator of Contemporary Architecture Giovanna Borasi and CCA Director Mirko Zardini, in active collaboration with the architects.
Other Space Odysseys: Greg Lynn, Michael Maltzan, Alessandro Poli, on view at the Canadian Center for Architecture through September 19, 2010.
Finally kicking off my reports on the last edition of Transmediale. Starting by taking the side door, the one that opens on an exhibition and performance which were part of the 'off' programme of the festival. Both focus on one of the latest artistic enterprises of Agnes Meyer-Brandis. Most of you know by now that there's as much fantasy as science in Agnes' works. This time she played the role of Alice in wonderclouds for a series of experiments in weightlessness.
In September 2007, on occasion of the tenth parabolic flight campaign of the DLR (German Aerospace Center), Agnes Meyer-Brandis was invited to participate in one of its zero-gravity flights, which are primarily reserved for scientific purposes, and to work under conditions of temporary weightlessness on her art project Cloud Core Scanner. I don't think i'd have the nerve for the experience. Nor the stomach. The aircraft used for zero gravity flights are given the delightful nickname of Vomit Comet, you see.
Here's what happens during one of these parabolic flights: The aircraft lifts its nose towards the sky at an angle of 45 degrees. The plane is 'pushed over' the top to reach the zero-gravity segment of the parabolas. The crew then experience about 25 seconds of weightlessness. At approximately 30 degrees 'nose low' a gentle pull-out is started which brings back everyone and everything on the aircraft floor. Finally, the g-force is increased smoothly to about 1.8 g's until the aircraft reaches a flight altitude of 24,000 feet. The roller-coaster experience is obviously repeated dozens of time.
The objective of Agnes was to study what she calls "cloud cores" in a state of weightlessness. These small particles suspended in the air form the basis for the formation of clouds. The water in the air condensates around these particles/cores. This accumulation of water becomes a drop and many drops generate a cloud. The artist developed probes capable of observing the otherwise elusive cloud cores.
Agnes took two instruments on board with her. The first one, the CCS, is the first ever picture generating instrument for examining the behaviour of the smallest particles in the clouds' interior - the famous cloud cores- during the zero gravity flight. The second apparatus is the ADM-Filmbox (ADM = Animation Durch Mikrogravitation, in english Animation Through Microgravitation) which she used to capture in images even the fastest among the tiniest cloud cores.
The world of Cloud Core can be observed inside what looks like little snow globes:
Last month, Agnes shared her discoveries in Berlin through an exhibitions and two evenings of performances.
The exhibition explored the formation of clouds and the fusion of art and science during zero gravity.
As the press blurb said: The Material, generated under unearthly conditions, mixes and raises the issue of communication structures of contemporary art with some quite surreal forms of science (nanotechnology, Fluid-dynamic research, meteorology). As central metaphor as well as the main focus of the filmed procedures serves the theory of cloud formation.
The accompanying performance "Making Clouds, or On the Absence Of Weight - A Contemporary Traveling Movie Show" combined the performance itself with lectures, both by Agnes and by a scientist expert in nephology, screenings of movies, experiments in science and cloud formation.
I'm not entirely sure that i understood everything that was going on that evening but i'd be ready to forget about vertigo and put my head inside the clouds if that's half as exciting an experience as the one we caught a glimpse of during Agnes' performance.
Tomas Saraceno's Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider's Web was the ultimate photo-magnet at this year's Venice Biennale. No doubt the work he's exhibiting at ReThink: Contemporary Art and Climate Change in Copenhagen is meeting with the same fascination from the audience. I've seen his artworks in numerous group exhibition. They are always striking of course but i never really took the time to sit down and watch his work with enough attention.
MUDAM gave me a great opportunity to do just that. The Luxembourg museum is currently dedicating one of its exhibitions to the Argentinian artist with videos, sketches, photo documentation of his experiments, prototypes of inflatable structures anchored to the floor of the galleries, etc.
The artist's suspended gardens and nomadic architecture follow the steps of the structures conceived by Peter Cook, Yona Friedman, Buckminster Fuller and the members of Ant Farm. Saraceno's vehicles are "lighter than air", they are powered by solar energy and made with materials such as aerogel, an extremely low-density solid derived from a gel in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas.
His Air-Port-City is an ongoing experiment that interconnects various living areas floating in the air through a system of modules. Saraceno's architecture is ethereal and delicate, it is poetical and utopian but because they are ruled by regulations similar to airport ones, his cities also challenge existing political, social, cultural and military boundaries. They are truly international. Inhabitants will survive eating the produces of the "Flying Gardens" made of plants that can survive the constant changes in spatial and temporal conditions. There will be 'airplants' for example. These plants, from the genus Tillandsia, feed on rain, dust, insect matter, dew and whatever nutrients the air brings to them.
Previously at MUDAM: Mudam, the Museum of Modern Art in Luxembourg (part 1) and Mudam (part 2): RRRIPP!! Paper Fashion.
The Maison Européenne de la Photographiein Paris is currently hosting the 10th edition of the Festival @rt Outsiders. (Un)Inhabitable? - Art of Extreme Environments explores the meaning of living in extreme environments.
These environments are either those that were, until recently, uninhabited by human beings and that contemporary science and technology is turning into "inhabitable" places (Antarctica, underwater world, outer space, deserts); or they are those that the consequences of man's actions have ruined and made "uninhabitable" for himself but also for other species.
It seems that every single European city is coming up with its own global warming-infused exhibition. @rt Outsiders was smart enough to narrow the focus of its show and to present a couple of artworks that stand out for their complexity, beauty and sense of involvement with the subject.
One of them is Sounds from Dangerous Places, Chernobyl, by sound artist Peter Cusack. Since the nuclear catastrophe of April 26, 1986 nature at Chernobyl seems to be thriving. As humans were evacuated from the exclusion zone around the nuclear power station over 20 years ago, animals moved in. Existing populations multiplied and species not seen for decades began to return (although not every scientist agrees with the statement that the benefits for wildlife from the lack of human activity outweigh the risks of low-level radiation.)
Sounds from Dangerous Places, Chernobyl is part of a broader project by Cusack to collect sounds from sites which have sustained major environmental damage. Impressed by the natural sounds of springtime in the Ukrainian city --dawn chorus, nighttime concert as well as frogs and nightingales-- the artist coupled photographs taken at and around Chernobyl with sound recordings. The sound of birds singing, the view of lovely old houses and wild flowers contrast with the sinister image we have of dilapidated buildings and the invisible radioactivity crackling through Geiger counters. This is one of the most striking works in the show as it's one of the rare artworks that explores Chernobyl without stopping at its potential for spectacularity and drama. As Cusack writes:
There is, often, an extreme dichotomy between an aesthetic response and knowledge of the 'danger', whether it is pollution, social injustice, military or geopolitical. The project asks, "What can we learn by listening to the sounds of dangerous places?"
The project also provides us with a further opportunity to reflect on some governments and industry suggestion that nuclear power is one of the greenest fuels available right now and that it would allow us to cut carbon dioxide emissions and keep climate change at a tolerable level.
Audios of Chernobyl Dawn and Chernobyl Frogs.
Howard Boland & Laura Cinti presented a new version of The Martian Rose, an experiment about life on Mars. A series of roses were exposed to Martian conditions using a planetary simulation chamber specifically built for Mars.
The fragile floweres were placed inside a biochamber that simulates most of the extreme conditions found on Mars. The low pressure, the hard penetrating UV-light and the chilling temperature.
The roses emerged, dark red, frozen, their shape intact. The project reminds us that no matter how many spaceships we build and launch into outerspace, no matter how much we want to adapt and explore new planets, space is still a pretty unhospitable place for men.
EPO4 Dewey's Forest, by Shiro Matsui, was inspired by Silent Running, a sci-fi movie that depicts a future in which all plant life on Earth has been made extinct, except for a few specimens preserved in a fleet of space-borne freight ships. The artist designed a garden for weightlessness. An experiment of the garden should be sent to the International Space Station during the Autumn 2009, in collaboration with JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency. The garden looked fit and healthy when i visited the show. I'd be curious to see what the plants look like in a month or two.
Plants are locked in a rotating machine, behind a porthole and thus unreachable, allowing the vegetation to grow in all directions, like in weightlessness. A camera is filming the garden from inside, capturing the audience looking at it. Visitors cannot enter the garden anymore that astronauts can go outside.
If a garden can thrive in space? How about art?
In 2003, while he was an artist in residence at the Australian Antarctic Base of Davis, Stephen Eastaugh created a sculpture garden between the meteorology building, a usually-frozen sea and a public mostly made of penguins. The sculptures look like small totems. Inspired by a wooden head planted in a pile of rocks years ago by an unknown explorer, they compete with the antennas, flagpoles and windsocks distributed around the station.
The 10th edition of the Festival @rt Outsiders, curated by Annick Bureaud and Jean-Luc Soret, runs until October 11, 2009 at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. If you're in Paris on Wednesday don't miss the conference and debate that will focus on the economic and political challenges in the Arctic territories, an area coveted for its reserves of oil, gas and other materials buried deep under the