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Indepth Arts News:

"Call for Proposals from Artists: ZERO GRAVITY"
2001-06-11 until 2001-07-04
Arts Catalyst, the Science-Art Agency
London, , UK United Kingdom

The Arts Catalyst, the science-art agency, invites proposals from London and Moscow artists to develop experimental projects in zero gravity, double gravity or changing gravities on a 'parabolic flight' (diving aircraft) with the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, Star City, Russia, probably in late September 2001. On this occasion, funding has been provided for London and Russian artists only.

One of the most fascinating aspects of manned space flight is the state of zero gravity or weightlessness: astronauts and objects floating in air. But it is only recently that this extraordinary 'by-product' of the space programme has been recognised as a rich scientific resource, with a multitude of experiments - from human physiology to fluid physics - queuing up for the space agencies' parabolic flight programmes and for the new International Space Station. To date, the aesthetic possibilities of zero gravity have barely been explored, in part due to the exclusiveness of the environment, accessible only to astronauts and scientists.

In recent years, a small handful of artists have managed, through negotiations with international space agencies, to access the restricted environment of parabolic 'zero gravity' flights - the only way to achieve weightlessness for a significant duration within the Earth's atmosphere. The Arts Catalyst is now able to offer this opportunity to other artists through their relationship with the Yuri Gagarin Centre.

Dancers, choreographers, circus and theatre practitioners are welcome to apply, as well as visual artists, digital artists, musicians or artists working in any media. Arts Catalyst's 'Zero-G' bursaries will be allocated towards travel to Star City, Russia, accommodation, materials, technical equipment needs and other expenses.

You do not necessarily have to go on the flight itself (which can be physically demanding) to make a proposal. Artists may propose projects that can be operated remotely or by others or that use the visit to Star City itself as an inspirational starting point. This may be particularly relevant to people with disabilities who may not be accepted onto the flight itself by the Yuri Gagarin Centre for safety reasons.

This is a pilot project for the MIR (Microgravity Interdisciplinary Research) network, a group of international arts organisations working to enable access to space facilities for artistic practice, to encourage interdisciplinary research among artists and scientists, and to promote arts and cultural activity as part of the international space programme.

Details of the Opportunity

The Russian Federation is a nation with a large space programme. To carry out this programme it is necessary to train cosmonauts in real conditions of space flight - zero gravity. To achieve zero gravity in earth conditions, the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre uses the flight of a special flying laboratory on a parabolic trajectory. They have extensive experience of these flights. The IL-76 MDK is a very large aircraft specially adapted for parabolic flight.

A parabolic flight with the Yuri Gagarin Centre will enable a group of up to 4 London artists, 2 Russian artists and 2 - 3 scientists to experience and undertake projects in weightlessness. Further detailed information about parabolic flights follows. For a shortlist of applicants, Arts Catalyst will offer training/work sessions to help them to develop practical achievable projects before a final selection for the Russian trip. (If shortlisted applicants are not selected for the trip, Arts Catalyst is working with the MIR network to try to arrange further such opportunities in the future).

We plan to go to Moscow in late September 2001, staying for 5 - 6 days. During this time, London artists, Russian artists and scientists will socialise, eat meals and plan together. Arts Catalyst will have at least 1 day in Star City (near Moscow) ahead of the flight day to discuss our plans with the Zero-G team and to set up the aircraft.

For those artists selected to go on the flight, Arts Catalyst will have the option to commission them to develop and present their work, as an exhibit, video screening, etc, both in the UK and internationally.

Unlike many previous Arts Catalyst projects, proposed projects do NOT need to involve collaboration with a scientist. Scientists will be selected separately to undertake their own research on the flight alongside artists. We will encourage interdisciplinary dialogue and exchange through this intense, shared experience.

How to Apply

Please send an outline proposal in no more than 500 words and no more than 6 slides or photos or 2 videos (optional) by the 4 July 2001. It would be useful to know if you are interested in submitting a proposal as soon as possible.

Contact Nicola Triscott or Rob La Frenais
The Arts Catalyst, Toynbee Studios, 28 Commercial Street, London E1 6LS
zero@artscatalyst.org
www.artscatalyst.org
tel: 020 7375 3690

Selection Process

Deadline for initial proposals 4 July 2001.
Initial shortlist notified on or by 10 July (assuming good contact details).
Interview of initial shortlist will be held on the 12 July.
Final shortlist notified by 13 July.
Training/work sessions will be held 16 - 27 July.
Final selection for flight will be made by 31 July.

Further Information for Applicants

Gravity and Zero Gravity (Microgravity)

Gravity affects all physical, chemical and biological processes on Earth. Gravity forces the Moon to fly around the Earth and the Earth around the Sun. Gravity holds the solar system, our galaxy and the universe together. Gravity generates our sensation of weight and keeps us on the Earth's surface. Life began and developed on Earth more than 3500 million years ago, with gravity as an ever-present influence. Gravity causes sedimentation, buoyancy, convection in fluids and hydrostatic pressure in liquids. It is therefore not surprising that all life has developed with gravity-sensitive processes and systems.

Gravity cannot simply be switched off, but its effects can be removed with an equal and opposite acceleration force. The resulting equilibrium - a state of floating in air - is called weightlessness or zero gravity. The only ways to achieve weightlessness in relation to the human body are through off-planet space travel and orbit (such as on the International Space Station) or in zero-g aircraft flying parabolic trajectories. In both, the mechanism is the same. Weightlessness onboard the space station is not the result of being in space (the effect of gravity at an altitude of 400 km above the Earth's surface is only slightly less strong than on the Earth's surface itself), but the result of a free-fall situation around the Earth.

Description of a Parabolic Flight

A parabolic flight creates the conditions of zero gravity - otherwise only experienced for any length of time in orbit or space travel - by putting an aircraft into a series of diving manoeuvres. They are undertaken by a handful of space agencies around the world specifically for astronaut/cosmonaut training and scientific experiments.

A block of air space between 6000 and 10000 metres is needed. The aircraft follows a precisely-calculated flight path that almost exactly matches the parabolic curve traced out by any object falling freely - a thrown stone, for example. While it is on that parabolic trajectory, the aircraft and everything inside it - people and objects - are weightless.

Since aeroplanes are not usually designed to behave like free-falling rocks, the whole procedure requires some very accurate flying. The pilot first brings the aircraft to near-maximum speed - more than 800 km/h - in level flight. Next, they haul the machine into a gut-churning 45-degree climb, and throttle back the engines to provide just enough power to match air resistance. Nudging the flight controls as required, the pilot lets the aircraft free-fall for around 2,000 metres, over the top of the parabolic curve and down again to its starting altitude. Then they put full power back on and pull the machine abruptly from its dive back into level flight.

During the 25 - 30 seconds between climb and pull-out, weightlessness is experienced and everything floats around freely in the aircraft. The number of parabolas on a single flight may be between 10 and 30. We are planning 15 parabolas for our flight. During the fierce accelerations when the aircraft climbs into and pulls out of a parabola, apparent gravity is doubled. This means your weight doubles. The transitions between 2G (double gravity) and 0G (weightlessness) are swift.

The flight can be very hard on stomachs - nausea and sickness are common - and weightlessness can be disorientating. A letter from your doctor stating that you are fit to undertake this activity and an ECG print-out will be required. The Yuri Gagarin Centre and the Arts Catalyst have the right to stop any individual from flying or to stop the flight at any point. As in most unusual arts activity, there is an element of risk.

Planning the Flight

Planning the time and space on the parabolic flight is the primary consideration (after health) to undertake good projects. When bodies are flying around, there is a reduction of apparent space and often a sense of time distortion. Added to the sense of disorientation, lack of weight and lack of control, this is a very challenging environment for artistic or scientific projects. For dancers, there are difficulties with movement memory (a result of lack of gravity effects on the body), but studying video images may help to create this memory.

The selection panel will select a group of artistic and scientific projects that can best be undertaken alongside each other. The numbers of participants stated are indications of the maximum number of people who could be taken and produce any effective research or results. Arts Catalyst may choose to take fewer. Arts Catalyst will consider physically dividing the aircraft into sections, as ESA and NASA do, using nets (there is a slight drift towards the back of the aircraft in zero gravity and it is also very difficult to control movement and prevent people drifting into other parts of the aircraft). We can also divide the flight time, allocating certain parabolas to certain people. A combination of the two approaches may be the best, depending on the proposals we have. Several digital video cameras will be installed on the aircraft and available for hand-held recording.

The visits to Moscow will also be important outside the parabolic flight itself. The time spent as a working group - artists and scientists from different countries - will be valuable for the cross-fertilisation of ideas. The visits to Star City will enable us to develop our relationship with the Russian space team and will let artists see the other opportunities available there - neutral buoyancy facility, Mir mock-up, centrifuge - which might become sources for future project visits.


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