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Caught in between: Darzacq’s La Chute No. 16 (2006).

Up in the Air

By Nadine Wasserman

Dancing on the Ceiling: Art & Zero Gravity

EMPAC, 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.


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