in between: Darzacq’s La Chute No. 16 (2006).
in the Air
on the Ceiling: Art & Zero Gravity
through April 10
Scheduled to lift off in 2012, Virgin Galactic’s Enterprise
will take six passengers at a time 68 miles up into low earth
orbit. For a mere $200,000, you can hop aboard to experience
approximately four minutes of weightlessness. But if you can’t
wait that long to break free of gravity (or you just can’t
raise that kind of capital) you can explore the condition
vicariously in the exhibition Dancing on the Ceiling: Art
& Zero Gravity.
On display throughout the public spaces at EMPAC are a variety
of works that explore gravity as either a physical or metaphysical
concept. With a focus on time-based arts, the exhibition includes
photography, video, animation, and “living” sculpture. Three
of the 16 works are newly commissioned pieces. Because of
the complex design of the building, the exhibition is described
as being “un-tethered from the confines of the traditional
gallery exhibition paradigm.” Yes, the building is not a white
cube but there is interesting potential, and it is clear that
the curators are still figuring out how to use it. There were
several pieces that worked particularly well in the unconventional
spaces of the building. One was Edith Dekyndt’s Ground
Control, a large black ball that levitates on a third
floor landing. Seen from across the expanse of the building,
its massive, dark shape can be observed wafting around the
balcony as dictated by air currents and by visitors who can’t
resist the urge to push it around. A soundtrack of wind and
a beating heart accompanies this piece, but it didn’t really
seem necessary. The piece is expressive enough without it.
Benjamin Bergmann’s understated Black Moon complements
Ground Control aesthetically, metaphorically, and physically.
Comprised of a black balloon, this piece, like Ground Control,
is both sculptural and a performance. Each day a biodegradable
black balloon is filled with helium and placed in the elevator
where it clings to the ceiling. Each night that particular
balloon is released into a dark sky as an antithesis of a
brilliant white moon.
These two pieces, along with those by Chris Doyle, make the
visitor aware of the physicality of the building. Doyle’s
animations make use of specific architectural spaces in order
to create metaphors for transcendence. Method Air,
which is projected onto the south side of the building from
7 PM until midnight, shows cartoon versions of local skateboarders
defying gravity as they careen across the façade. Your
Love Keeps Lifting Me is an animation that is activated
by the mechanics of the elevator as well as by visitor movement.
Another piece that relates to architecture is Tomás Saraceno’s
59 Steps to be on Air by Sun Power/Do it Yourself.
This piece is a handout with directions for making a geodesic
solar balloon. It is an example of the artist’s utopian vision
of how to inhabit space as a means to address environmental
and social concerns. As a cerebral rather than physical exercise
this piece complements Thom Kubli’s Float! Thinktank 21.
This installation includes an isolation tank, five short audio
lectures, and a table full of books that are intended to provide
a space for gaining political awareness.
Floating as a psychological escape is part of the narrative
in Jane & Louise Wilson’s Stasi City. Filmed in
the defunct headquarters of the East German secret police,
this video installation shows images of abandoned corridors
and interrogation rooms. A floating figure appears in opposition
to the oppressive and complicated history of the place.
The other works in the show are more about physical transitions
rather than mental. In the video Gravitation Off! a
group of artists and scientists experience a zero gravity
flight, one of them describing it as a “physical experience
of rapture.” In Antipodes I/II, William Forsythe choreographs
his movements to appear as if he is gliding blithely between
two tables in one video and dangling from the ceiling in the
other. Xu Zhen, Julia Fullerton-Batten, and Denis Darzacq
each attempt to capture a type of transition. Xu’s “live”
sculpture shows a figure suspended in mid-fall, symbolizing
the migrant experience as hovering between two worlds. Fullerton-Batten’s
photographs show young girls literally suspended between childhood
and adulthood. Darzacq’s photographs show Parisian youth in
mid-leap as they dance and move. His series, created after
the 2005 riots is a metaphor for disenfranchisement.
The only element that seemed out of place was the compilation
of music videos on the 6th-floor landing. While relevant as
adjunct material, the two monitors take up a significant amount
of space and would have been less distracting in a different
location. Nevertheless, EMPAC’s first extended exhibition
uses a theme that fittingly explores the experimental potential
of the venue. Not bad for a first flight.