What to do without resistance?
An Afternoon in Zero Gravity. Report by Nadia Palliser about Wiretap 6.11 (2000).
A Wiretap of weightless proportions, the afternoon took off with a glass of vodka, heralding the twentieth day of the Alpha expedition in orbit and commemorating Valentina Tereshkova, the Russian cosmonaut and first woman in space. Now prepared for the light-headed condition of zero gravity, Project Noordung and Arts Catalyst launched into their non-gravitational enthusiasm. Exploring unknown ground in orbital circumstances, Projekt Noordung develops interfaces between art and science, inspired by the book The Problem of Space Travel by Herman Potocnik Noordung. In dramatic and experimental form, the group elaborates on Potocnik’s ideas of micro gravity and the space station (also used in the film Space Odyssey 2001). Starcity Moscow allowed Project Noordung a first parabolic flight in 1995: the first of five in a fifty-year plan of new drama in zero gravity. For Dragan Zivadinov, one of the founders of Neue Slovenische Kunst and Marco Peljhan, flight director and organiser of artistic zero-g-flights (MakroLab), the drive for post-gravity theatre has long been a dream. After writing a manifesto in 1986 on art research in zero gravity, Zivadinov has set the target on abstract theatre in absolute zero: a theme he managed to develop tied to the gravitational pull of the earth in his cosmo-kinetical art and last inhabited sculptures of the late nineties. The first cosmicist action in 1995 – One against Ten Million, One against One, Noordung - consisted of 16 actors, plus décor. As a continual drama of replication, all décor and actors remain part of all five reprises between 1995 and 2045. If one of the actors dies, they will be replaced by remote-controlled robot models – a woman’s voice substituted by melody, a man’s voice by rhythm - pulsations becoming information of the emotional memory. The last reprise will take place on the 20th of April 2045. The date also heralds Zivadinov’s death; having fulfilled his plan, he will commit suicide Somehow the bombastic weight of his theatrical concept has Shakespearean zest. In historical yet hysterical fashion, Zivadinov explained that whereas the 20th century may have been the age of the historical biomechanics, of cognition and telepresence, the 21st century will increasingly become the age of cosmic biomechanics. The latter surfaced in 1991 already at the Mir Station whereby astronauts floated in orbit for over ten months. At the same time, the drive to be cosmically free of all gravitational pull has long been a dream in the arts – as in many of the Bauhaus projects for example. As art and science intertwine however, the symbolic avant-garde disappears. So-called functional and rational art now looks for a new conflict in zero gravity as drama shifts to other spaces, unbound by nature.
Absolute gravity and drama in weightlessness deny the classical sense of perspective, now that the horizon has gone and either up or down have no meaning. Yet, does this make such activities in zero gravity a new art genre - something that the collaboration between art and science decidedly wishes to shake off? According to Michael Benson, it does, especially from a cinematic angle. As an adrenaline-powered form of drama, recorded by the camera – a floating microcosmic voyager caught in a cloud of giggling actors, the vertical figure disintegrates: only the position of the head becomes directional, however disorientated.
The gap between the arts and sciences sporadically comes together as both sides are traditionally set miles apart. Kitsu DuBois’s endeavours in zero gravity show a point of breach within this domain, fusing choreography and the body in orbit. According to Rob La Frenais, who has worked as a curator for years, the complete breakdown of the artist-audience division in zero gravity is especially interesting, bodies clashing in euphoric bewilderment. Kitsou DuBois’s first flight took place in 1990. From thereon she has made twelve flights from which protocols have been developed; now published in her hypothesis Subjective Vertical. Based on the idea of an independent body image that remains stable in zero gravity, motor functions in the limbs are tested and stimulated in weightlessness. In this a fluid trajectory is developed between art and science, art and space, body and object and between the bodies themselves. In zero gravity, there exists a permanent unstable balance of unlimited three-dimensional movement – time becomes continuous, as the body has no resistance. How does this change the density of the body and in which way is this poetically translated in the body of the dancer? Kitsou DuBois showed three films of her experiments in shifting the subjective referential of the body – the first on a trampoline, the second in the water and the third in zero gravity. The movement on the trampoline seemed to slow down the higher the dancer jumped in the air – while seemingly pushing down the metal tube in his hands, it was his body going up that created the illusion. In the water, five dancers submerged to the bottom of the pool, coming up for air and stuck with their mouths to the surface hanging as lily pads beneath the water – We are not fish in the water but human, human but different. In zero gravity, all resistance disappears, the limits of the body are undefined: in all the flights, strips are attached to the floor through which DuBois put her feet, holding on to the floating body of a dancer and turning him in circles with amazing ease. Moving with floaty gestures and high concentration, the body in zero gravity becomes a happy electron! Though the situation is more severe in orbit than in a parabolic flight, the body must adapt - space sickness may occur coupled to complete disorientation. Furthermore, the blood pressure changes as the circulation tends to go up, the bones show traces of calcification and the distance between vertebra elongates, making one 3 to 5 centimetres longer! (No high heels in the future, only a parabolic flight is needed!) For DuBois, gravity may have been the story of the human, yet a new trajectory of the body may be set, just as more can be learnt about the body in electronic space. The euphoria of zero gravity and cyberspace seems to have much in common – the wish to fly just as to surf in cyberspace moves to melancholy after the first experience. To find the nuances of bodily and informational adaptation in both zero gravity and network structures is of yet an open domain of experimentation. Andreas Broeckmann made an interesting point: though Projekt Noordung seemed still wrapped in the initial excitement of zero-g, Kitsou DuBois’ research moved towards structural movement in weightlessness - as in the straps tied to the floor giving resistance. One could ask on a more general note if resistance is perhaps inevitable to any kind of creative process? Does the obstreperous impulse of all that one attests against provoke the new idea? Without resistance, be it conceptual or physical, mind and body float in poetic rapture, both literally colliding into zero-g.
Noordung: The Book