Cosmic Dancer, sculpture and weightlessness

Hello one and all. I would like to say a thing or two about a piece from the Space chapter in the Wilson book, in the section about Art  Executed in Space and Weightlessness. The piece is called Cosmic Dancer and it was created in 1993 (the year I was born!) by the Swiss/American artist Arthur Woods. Some info from the website:

a painted geometric form made out of welded aluminum tubing measuring approximately 35 x 35 x 40 centimeters and weighing exactly one kilogram – was the first three-dimensional artwork to be specifically conceived for and officially realized in a space habitat. The purpose of the project was to investigate the properties of sculpture in weightlessness and to evaluate the integration of art into the human space program.

So lets get a look at this thing [full gallery]:

So this is the first time I’ve seen something like this: sculpture without the constraint of gravity which has been burdening sculptors since the beginning. Not only is this project opening up opportunities for artists to get involved in space projects, things you’d normally expect to be strictly scientific, but further down the road when space is a more accessible sort of place, what unthinkable directions will art go in without the constraint of gravity, and other worldly forces?

Before this work, Woods had been making geometric sculptures that could be positioned differently for different perspectives of looking at them. Since Cosmic Dancer isn’t made to be stationary or in an environment with gravity, it doesn’t have a top or a bottom, while in space it can be viewed from an infinite number of perspectives. Not only is the shape constantly changing as it dances in space, but the color composition is as well because of the way it’s painted:

My painting technique was initially inspired by particle physics research and, simply stated, I use points of color as a metaphor of the components of the sub-atomic cosmos, calligraphic lines signifying energy and motion, and geometric shapes as a metaphor for our approach to knowledge based on science and mathematics.

The last thing I’d like to talk about is the experience of the piece. It’s not like it’s people going into a gallery to see the art, it’s in a high stress, totally new environment to humans. One of the cosmonauts on the space station with Cosmic Dancer noted that it was a comforting reminder of earth. So it was serving a bit deeper purpose and certainly farther reaching purpose than you can draw from most sculptures. Another thing the cosmonaut said about it:

Sometimes it behaves like a living being, it swings and floats . . . And
contemplating the sculpture turning in weightlessness while listening to music results in an effect which is possibly totally unknown on Earth. It is difficult to describe this effect.

So, as you watch these men dance around with Cosmic Dancer and witness its motion and interaction with liquids and you just stare at it because it’s so cool, think about what else could come from weightless sculpture. Not only with metal sculptures being send to a space station, but where is art going in general without Earth’s constraints?

-Ben Breidenthal

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