October 22, 2003 at 8pm at the grunt gallery - Video screening
October 26 at 2pm video intro by Rob La Frenais as part of the LIVE performance panel - grunt gallery
production date: September 2003
There is a long-standing myth - believed by many - that somewhere, maybe at NASA, Los Alamos, CERN or some similar facility, there exists a 'zero gravity room' used for training astronauts, where the gravitation can be switched off at will. None exist as far as we know, but on a once-secret military airfield in Russia sits the Ilyushin MDK-76 Flying Laboratory, the closest thing to a zero gravity room, or hall - it is a very big plane- and for the past 5 years it has been used as an flying art studio for flying artists and objects in a series of specially commissioned parabolic flights.
Gravitation Off! chronicles four such flights organised by the science-art agency, The Arts Catalyst, for artistic and sometimes scientific experiments for an increasing number of people from around the world. It shows not only the startling effects of undertaking a performance, sculpture or installation in weightlessness but also participation in a community that exists to train people for living in space, the artists, working, relaxing, dancing and drinking with cosmonauts and their trainers, in the extraordinary environment of Star City, the once-secret space town outside Moscow.
Home of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, it also houses facilities such as the giant centrifuge for increasing gravitation to degrees beyond human endurance and the hydrolab, a vast tank for practising space-walks. Following early experimental flights by pioneers Kitsou Dubois and Dragan Zhivadinov, the Arts Catalyst, with assistance of Projekt Atol, (instigators of the Slovenian Space Agency) decided it would be viable to offer the zero G experience to larger numbers of participants, commissioning both new art for microgravity and new scientific research. They formed the European consortium MIR (Microgravity Interdisciplinary Research) and advertised for projects in what is possibly the first ever artist-in-residence programme in a space agency.
MIR participants have included artists Kitsou Dubois, Andrew Kotting, Yuri Leiderman, Marko Peljhan, Anna Alchuk, Mike Stubbs, Dragan Zhivadinov, Ansuman Biswas and Jem Finer, Flow Motion, Louis K. Wilson, Morag Wightman, Ewen Chardronnet, Kodwo Eshun, Anjalika Sagar, Richard Couzins, Vadim Fishkin, Andre and Julia Velikowsky, Alexi Blinov, Marcel-li Antunez Roca, philosopher Mikhail Ryklin and scientists Susan McKenna-Lawlor, Anthony Bull, Kevin Fong, Roger Malina and Rebecca Forth. Many of these are seen in Gravitation Off! preparing their work on board the MIR zero gravity plane with the help of the Yuri Gagarin cosmonaut trainers.
MIR was of course the well-worn space habitat for the Russians and a symbol of the closing of the Cold War and the opening of the former Soviet zone as international astronauts joined the cosmonauts in residence. Similarly we see the MIR flights shown in Gravitation Off! as symbolic first steps towards putting the first artist in space, as well as a foretaste of what it will be like for us, or our children, to live, work and make art in constant conditions of new gravities.
Rob La Frenais is the curator of the Arts Catalyst (London). He has been organizing visual art projects on an international level since 1987, curating major projects with artists such as James Turrell, Marina Abramovic, Stelarc and Orlan. From 1979 to 1987 he was the editor of Performance Magazine, a UK-based European cross-artform journal. He joined the Arts Catalyst in 1997 and with Nicola Triscott organized shows such as 'Atomic', featuring the nuclear artist James Acord, and the major international conferences 'Eye of the Storm' and 'Cosmic Chances' at the Royal Institution, London, as well as setting up and chairing the UK Space Art Forum, taking place in 1999, 2000 and 2001.
In August 1999 he took part in the first dedicated artists' parabolic flight to take place in Russia with the Yuri Gagarin Training Centre, organized by Marko Peljhan for Dragan Zivadinov's Noordung company.
The international project is entitled: MIR (Microgravity Interdisciplinary Research).
The first flight was in September 2000 and carried dancer-choreographer Kitsou Dubois and a 5-person team to study dance in weightlessness, as well as other artists and scientists. The second flight was the MIR pilot project: MIR Flight 001, which enabled a group of artists and scientists to experience and develop projects in zero gravity and in the Star City environment, results from which were presented at the Sadlers Wells in London in March 2002.
Also: Call for submissions for future space art projects to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Funded by The Media Arts Section of The Canada Council.
Part of LIVE Biennial of Performance Art 2003.