No Such Thing As Gravity, Rob’s exhibtion at FACT Liverpool closes on February 5 2017. You can also hear him speak about the exhibition with Professor Chris French on January 28 here
Click here to see it.
Download the press release here: press-release-no-such-thing-as-gravity-at-fact-2016
No Such Thing as Gravity
Exhibition at FACT, Liverpool
11 November 2016 – 5 February 2017
Press Preview and Artist Talks: Thursday 10 November 2016, 11am – 12.30pm, The Box
The opening of the exhibition coincides with Day of Collisions, a programme of events by FACT and Arts at CERN, including talks and workshops around art and science.
This autumn, FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) presents the ambitious new exhibition No Such Thing as Gravity, exploring the ever-changing limits of science, through art. Showing at FACT from 11 November 2016 until 5 February 2017, the exhibition will feature a wide range of works merging art with scientific experiments, new and future technologies, and exploring the borders between life and death, as well as the limitations of our consciousness.
Curated by Rob La Frenais, No Such Thing as Gravity will exhibit both new commissions and existing works by artists including Tania Candiani, Yin-Ju Chen, Gina Czarnecki / John Hunt, Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand, Nick Laessing, Nahum Mantra, Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Helen Pynor and Sarah Sparkes. Artworks include a car fuelled by water, a ghost inducing robot, and portraits made of skin cells.
No Such Thing as Gravity explores the idea of science being a continuing quest for knowledge, rather than a fixed framework. The exhibition is formed around the areas of science where the absence of established facts leave room for new theories, alternative science, conspiracy theories and irrational beliefs.
The Ghost Formula (2016) by Sarah Sparkes (UK) takes inspiration from Marcel Duchamp’s artwork, A GUEST + A HOST = A GHOST (1953), and is one of the artworks exploring mysteries surrounding the relationship between the living and the dead. Sparkes’ aim is to create a research archive which investigates the nature of ghosts and their ‘hosts’, and the conditions in which ghosts may be made. The archive draws on Liverpool’s historical and contemporary ghost narratives with input from experts within various fields and also includes two visually mesmerizing ‘infinity portals’ inviting spectators to visit two separate locations, and a robotic machine attempting to create a ghost. Another example is the new research project The End is a Distant Memory (2016) by Helen Pynor (AU/GB), which explores the ambiguous borders between life and death at cellular and experiential levels by studying ‘marginal’ cells that remain alive inside dead tissue, and experiences of people who have survived clinical death. Similarly, Heirloom (2016) by Gina Czarnecki and John Hunt (UK) tests the limits of medical science and the possibility of using cell growth to recapture eternal youth. Looking at the potential impact of innovation on personal identity, and being able to ‘make’ ourselves, artist Czarnecki and scientist Hunt have created a living process of growth tissue, where delicate skin cells frame portraits of Czarnecki’s daughters. Visitors will also be able to explore the rapid prototyping used to develop the bases for these masks, and 3D print model versions of their own faces.
One of the artworks investigating the laws of physics is Water Gas Car (2013 – present) by Nick Laessing (UK/DE), which questions what energy really is. Drawing on his research into the alternative energy community, Laessing has been attempting to build a car that is fuelled only by water.
The three-channel video installation Action at a Distance (2015) describes a universe where science and pseudoscience are simply two complementary routes to understanding human life, and is the third chapter in a series of work by Yin-Ju Chen (TW), supported by the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture. This chapter addresses the body, governments, and state violence. The second chapter in Chen’s project, Extrastellar Evaluations II: A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems will be displayed at Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in Manchester from 21 October 2016 until 15 January 2017, partially coinciding with No Such Thing as Gravity. Inspired by and borrowed from Galileo’s book A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, the second chapter discusses the order and the meaning of the consciousness of the solar system.
Curator Rob La Frenais has spent 17 years working with artists in scientific environments through the science-art organisation The Art Catalyst. Having accessed places such as space agencies and nuclear facilities, La Frenais says: “Contemporary art and science collaborations have now reached a state of unprecedented maturity, with artist residencies at CERN, European Space Agency, Antarctica stations, and other places previously closed to outsiders. Is it now a good time to examine some of the admitted fault-lines of knowledge, and for artists to work creatively with scientists to suggest some more transformative and less conventional approaches?”
No Such Thing as Gravity will be accompanied by a comprehensive public programme of performances and talks, including Sarah Sparkes’ continuation of her programme of research seminars – Ghost Hostings – with an interdisciplinary seminar and performance event exploring the concept of ‘a formula for ghost making’. An extensive film programme of both popular cinema and artist-made, and selected, film will also be offered throughout the exhibition.
Additionally, there will be a live programme focusing on the use of technology within music, showcasing female producers who work within this field, and the ‘magic’ of hardware and software will be unlocked through a series of learning sessions with local coding club Liverpool Girl Geeks. Family friendly activities such as playful hands-on experiments introducing coding, arduino technology, and basic robotics will also be happening at FACT alongside the show.
The preview of the exhibition on 10 November coincides with the FACT and Arts at CERN event Day of Collisions, which will offer a range of activities investigating the relationship between art and science.
The event is part of the three-year COLLIDE CERN FACT Framework Partnership, which includes workshops, events, and the International Residency Award COLLIDE, granting an artist a fully funded residency split between CERN in Geneva, and FACT in Liverpool. Day of Collisions will include an Arts at CERN roundtable discussion with South Korean artist Yunchul Kim, the winner of this year’s COLLIDE International Award, and his partner scientist from CERN, who will discuss Kim’s residency project Cascade and their experience of, and the possibilities for, a meaningful art and science collaboration. This will be the first public presentation of the residency, and the revelation of Kim’s partnering scientist.
Day of Collisions will also present a No Such Thing As Gravity Artist Talk, where a number of artists will discuss their work in the exhibition, followed by a panel discussion with curator La Frenais. The yearly Roy Stringer Memorial Lecture, sponsored by Amaze, will host writer, political commentator and broadcaster Will Self to give a typically provocative lecture on the relationship between art and science, and host a Q&A session with the audience. There will also be opportunities to participate in the event Voyage: A session for remembering, where artist Nahum Mantra uses hypnotism to explore the possibilities of producing an intimate experience of travelling to the Moon. Additionally, a Tarot Card workshop with artist Yin-Ju Chen will teach participants the art of tarot cards, introducing mystic symbols to encourage participants to develop their trust in their intuition. This workshop will also take place at Godlee Observatory, University of Manchester on Tuesday 18 October 6pm – 7.30pm, as part of Chen’s exhibition Extrastellar Evaluations II – A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems at CFCCA.
FACT’s Gallery 1 will host a variety of works by artists motivated by how theoretical physicists are still not in agreement about fundamental concepts, and artists who use bio-medical research as part of their examinations and artworks.
A selection of works by Evelina Domnitch (NL/BY) and Dmitry Gelfand (NL/RUS) will be on display, including the new commission Quantum Lattice (2016), which is based on experiments with an ion trap, a scientific instrument which at the end of the 20th century enabled physicists to investigate the quantum behaviour of single isolated atoms for the very first time. Thirty years later, the ion trap has become a key instrument in experimental physics and quantum computing, and provides the only means to capture and store antimatter. Using pulsed laser illumination to reveal the ceaseless oscillations of trapped particles, this new work investigates the subtle interactions between light, electrodynamically levitated matter, and gravitational forces. Quantum Lattice was produced in collaboration with FEAT (Future Emerging Art and Technology).
Heirloom (2016) by Gina Czarnecki and John Hunt (UK) tests the limits of medical science and the possibility of using cell growth to recapture eternal youth. Looking at the potential impact of innovation on personal identity, and being able to ‘make’ ourselves, artist Czarnecki and scientist Hunt have created a living process of growth tissue, where delicate skin cells frame portraits of Czarnecki’s daughters. Visitors will also be able to explore the rapid prototyping used to develop the bases for these masks, and 3D print model versions of their own faces. It imagines and offers a cultural laboratory for the future of the face. Heirloom is created by Gina Czarnecki and John Hunt, with Saskia and Lola Czarnecki-Stubbs, and developed for display with Medical Museion as part of the EU Creative Europe funded project, Trust Me I’m an Artist. Heirloom is supported using public funding by Arts Council England and is a Forma Arts touring production.
Action at a Distance (2015) is the third chapter in a series of work by Yin-Ju Chen (TW), addressing the body, governments, and state violence. Like previous chapters, this three channel video installation expands and summarizes the metaphysical threads between invasive surgeries and instances of state violence. This chapter and its previous iterations ultimately describe a cohesive and interwoven universe, where science and pseudoscience are merely two complementary routes to understanding human life. The project is supported by the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture.
Water Gas Car (2013-present) by Nick Laessing (UK/DE) questions what energy really is, and if it always adheres to the laws of physics. Investigating theories about free energy, cold fusion and new forms of propulsion, Laessing has spent a decade visiting backyard inventors, and is attempting to build a car that is fuelled only by water, neither accepting nor rejecting the idea that his experiments might work.
Studies in Applied Falling / Hammer and Feather (2012) by Agnes Meyer-Brandis (DE) will also be on display in Gallery 1. The point of departure of the project is the exploration of gravity in the tradition of Galileo’s famous theory of free fall. The legendary proof, delivered by the astronaut David Scott on the Apollo15 lunar mission in 1971, serves the artist as a metaphor for the inscrutability of reality and the obscurity of scientific research methods. Agnes Meyer-Brandis sees Scott’s experiment as an artistic directive – her laboratory re-enactment of the hammer and feather experiment is just one of numerous apparent studies of objects and phenomena that oscillate between falling and floating: fallen stars, space debris, interstellar dust, gravitational interference and meteor craters. The video Hammer and Feather drop, Braunschweig was realized in cooperation with the Institute for Geophysics and Extraterrestrial Physics (IGEP) of the TU Braunschweig.
Gallery 2 will host the new research project The End is a Distant Memory (2016) by Helen Pynor (AU/GB), exploring the ambiguous borders between life and death at cellular and experiential levels. Working as artist in residence at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden during 2015, Pynor has studied ‘marginal’ cells that remain alive inside dead tissue, considering the implications of a breakdown between living ‘subject’ and dead ‘object’, and investigated the experiences of people who have survived clinical death. This project is supported by the Australia Council for the Arts.
Gina Czarnecki’s project MyPod, by The Lastwish Company Ltd. will be displayed on The Wall on the first floor at FACT, responding to how coffins remain as expensive, environmentally harmful and old-fashioned as they were 300 years ago, even though the rest of the world has moved on inextricably. Czarnecki’s affordable MyPod is the only ‘coffin’ made out of a new, strong, 100% natural and biodegradable material, whilst also being suitable for all crematoriums and burial grounds. Designed to empower people at their most vulnerable, whilst making a statement about our relationship with the world, people can personalise the MyPod, using photographs, personal messages, tickets, and mementos, helping to process grief through art, design and remembrance.
Housed on the ground floor, the new commission The Ghost Formula (2016) by Sarah Sparkes (UK), taking inspiration from Marcel Duchamp’s artwork, A GUEST + A HOST = A GHOST (1953), aims to create a research archive presenting an interrogation of the nature of ghosts and their ‘hosts’, and the conditions in which ghosts may be made. Drawing on Liverpool’s historical and contemporary ghost narratives, contributions have been collected in collaboration with local paranormal research groups, psychologists, neuroscientists, academics, spiritualist churches as well as the wider community. Chris French, Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, has also contributed his expert knowledge on the psychology of paranormal beliefs. The archive doubles as an interactive installation, and includes two visually mesmerizing ‘infinity portals’ inviting spectators to visit two separate locations, and to consider the nature of their material movement through time. Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre has commissioned Sarah Sparkes to undertake a residency, workshops and new commission on site supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, in partnership with FACT and National Museums Liverpool. A robotic machine will also be designed by the artist, attempting to create a ghost.
The large-scale projection Machine For Flying Besnier 1673 by Tania Candiani (MX) was made in zero gravity in Star City in Russia, as part of the Matters of Gravity project. Candiani, who represented Mexico at the Venice Biennale last year, works with disappearing projects and the poetic uses of engineering. Projected onto Ropewalks Square, this new work, shown for the first time in the UK, is based on pioneering anti-gravitational devices and marvellous inventions that were ahead of their time.
No Such Thing as Gravity will tour to National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art (NTMoFA), from April until June 2017.
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New major survey exhibition curated by Rob at FACT Liverpool, UK, opens November 10 2016 with a Day of Collisions. More details here
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Copyright 2016 Exact Editions
New HeHe installation curated by me in Dundee. With Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen. http://www.dundee.ac.uk/…/hehe-when-the-future-was-about-f…/ Opening and talk Thursday April 21…
Rob La Frenais Spring Newsletter Some talks and openings in Spring 2016 Emerge, Bournemouth University, UK, March 23 Becoming Aerosolar- Space Without Rockets’ March 23rd 15.00-17.00 In this talk, and to mark his appointment as a Research Fellow in Emerge, the experimental media research group at BU invited Rob to showcase one of the most recent major projects he has organised as curator with artist Tomas Saraceno and curator Kerry Doyle. The talk included the 'Future of Transportation' a series of projects and prototypes developed by students during the Srishti Interim 2016 at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology where he was visiting professor in November and December 2015: http://colab.org.uk Marston Vale Rail Line, Bedford to Bletchley , UK March 24 11.30 AM. Rob has written the catalogue essay for Where Will Your Journey of Contemplation begin- Contemplation seats by Sally Annett and Snakes and Ladders on the Marston Vale Line here: http://contemplationseats.com/rob-la-frenais/ Centrespace Gallery, DCA Building, Dundee, Scotland, UK April 21 18.00 Opening and introductory talk by Rob who has curated “When The Future Was about Fracking” by Paris-based artists group Hehe, whose often mischievous yet accurate miniaturisations of potential and actual global disasters have intrigued audiences worldwide. Exhibition until May 18, when there will be a closing performance/lecture by Hehe at 5PM. Open 11-6PM, late opening Thursday until 8PM. Part of Energy Ethics, organised by St Andrews University, and supported by The Cooper Gallery, DJCA this installation was originally commissioned as 'Fracking Futures' by FACT, Liverpool and Arts Catalyst. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jun/17/indoor-fracking-installation-provoke -debate More info: Sophia Hao firstname.lastname@example.org Exoplanet Lot Residencies, SW France, open day: Friday 13 May at 18.30 you can come along to meet the artists and see the work in progress at Residences Maisons Daura in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, near Cahors, France. Co-curated by Rob with Martine Michard, Director of the Maison Des Arts Georges Pompidou, in the spectacular Lot Valley in SW France. This will be a site-specific science, art and technology exhibition, in which the environment of the valley is imagined by the curators as an alternative earth-like planet, one where infrastructure developed by an intelligent species has evolved in a similar but different way to that on Earth. How would this civilisation organise things differently from the large-scale industrialisation of planet Earth and guarantee sustainability for this species and its environment? Artists and writers include Tania Candiani, Hehe, Tracey Warr, Nahum Mantra, Thomas Lasbouyges, Caroline Le Méhauté, Angelika Markul, Ludwig Passenau and Aleksandra Mir (TBC). Exhibition opening and performances on Saturday July 2 19.00. (www.magp.fr) Henry Moore Institute, Leeds UK, May 21 Rob will be speaking at a special study day, open to all, on the work of the late performance artist and pyrotechnicist Steve Cripps (1952-82) at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, UK in collaboration with Museum Tinguely. The workshop will take place on Saturday 21 May, 10.30-6pm and is followed by a film screening on Sunday 22 May,11-1pm, featuring Cripps’ films alongside those of John Latham and Jean Tinguely’s ‘Study for the End of the World’ (1962) at Hyde Park Picture House, a wonderful old cinema in Leeds. More info: Jon Wood: email@example.com Date for your diary! Opening of No Such Thing As Gravity, a major new exhibition curated by Rob at FACT Liverpool, UK on November 12, Private View November 11 2016
An Empty Chair on the Varsity Line
‘Marples Must Go!’ This graffitti remained on a bridge on the concrete strip of the M1, snaking through Bedfordshire to the North, Britain’s first fast highway or ‘motorway’ so quaintly named in the 50’s, for decades after Macmillan’s minister of transport had left office. I always noticed it as a young hitchhiker and it remains as a cultural memory among many, though no images exist of it as far as I know. Marples went, but not until after he had commissioned one Dr Richard Beeching to decimate Britains railways, including the ‘Varsity Line’ which intersected the M1, running conveniently from Oxford to Cambridge. Now those aristos and tweedy academics would have to pilot their Rollers and Morris Minors along roads built and financed and concreted by none other than the family firm, Marples Ridgeway, builder of the M1 extension and the Hammersmith Flyover. The closure of the Varsity line was not, in fact an immediate casualty of the ‘Beeching Axe’, but this knock-on effect of large scale closures led to the gradual degradation of other branch lines and lines that did not pass through London by neglect, ushering in the age of concrete and the car, leading to Thatcher’s dark psychogeography of the M25. As for Ernest Marples, the concrete magnate and former Minister of Transport ended his days as a tax exile in Monaco. Sounds familiar?
The M1 is also dissected by – points out artist, curator, all-round psychogeographer and activist of the inner life, Sally Annett – the route of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Including the Slough of Despond, an adequate metaphor for the corruption surrounding the replacement of Britain’s extraordinarily complex rail system with the current mire of road traffic: “This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.” ‘Carriageway Widening Works’ in another age. There are even more appropriate landmarks in ‘Bunyan Country’, notes Annett, including the Hill of Difficulty, the Vale of the Shadow of Death and the Celestial City, some of which can be visited on the remaining part of the Varsity Line, the Marston Vale Line. On this small line, reactivated by the influx of workers to the contemporary Dark Satanic Mill, the giant Amazon warehouse facility in Ridgmont, we see some of the classic symbols of rail depredation, aimed to make one think again about taking the train such as unstaffed brutalist ‘bus stop’ stations, stripped of any architecture or shelter that may make the passenger comfortable while waiting for the train that may, or may not, turn up. Annett has responded to this state of affairs, including at her own home ‘station stop’ as they are now absurdly announced, by creating a number of ‘Contemplation Seats’ which she is strategically placing along stations of the Marston Vale line.
Sally Annett, in her ‘Snakes and Ladders’ project has previously broken new ground in conducting large-scale investigations of the ‘inner voices’ of artists and scientists, probing at their religious, anti-religious, philosphical and pyschological backgrounds, to find out what they may all have in common in terms of notions of the self and processes of meta-awareness. In ‘Where Will Your Journey of Contemplation Begin’ she has initiated an unusual public art project which puts a new slant on the notion of ‘waiting for the train’ by strategically placing chairs, virtual and occasionally physically real, of different types and design in a guerilla fashion, in places where there is no seating. But they are not just functional. Annett describes the chairs as a way for the public “ to see familiar environments in a reflective and self-reflective way, through the written word and archetypal symbol of a chair or seat. The work uses the human body as a vehicle or mediator for consciousness and tries to develop methods of creating time and space for thought. They encourage a dialogue with a ‘still small voice’”.
The chair is an important symbol in contemporary art and stands as a powerful metaphor for human presence. A well-known example is Ai Wei Wei’s ‘Fairytale’ project in 2007, where he brought 1001 chairs from the Ming and Quing dynasty to Documenta 12 in Kassel. He also arranged for 1001 Chinese citizens to accompany them, who responded to an announcement in his blog, who had to answer 99 questions, including one about their dreams and who then inhabited the town of Kassel en masse in what Ai Wei Wei described as an ‘Eastern Wave’ along with the chairs. Another significant ‘chair’ work, which I was involved in curating was Simon Faithfull’s ‘Escape Vehicle No. 6 (2004) which took place at the first Artists Airshow at Farnborough, organised by The Arts Catalyst, where a life-size replica of a chair was launched to the edge of space. Faithfull described the flight of his chair as “first rushing away from the fields and roads, ascending through clouds and finally (against the curvature of the earth and the blackness of space) beginning to disintegrate… the empty chair invites the audience to imagine taking a journey to an uninhabitable realm where it is impossible to breathe…” Annett eventually aims to be able to install her Contemplation Seats permanently on the stations but for now they will appear occasionally and provocatively as ‘ghost chairs’ on the empty platforms, accompanied by discreet aluminium plaques, illicit stickers and a bespoke/interactive website – an ethernet contemplative trail which in the absence of full permissions, circuits from the real to digital and then imaginal worlds.
Riding the line between Bedford and Bletchley is a jolly affair, a friendly 2 -man train taking schoolkids, elderly shoppers and others who for whatever reason don’t use cars. However it is laced with uncertainty. On the day I first tried to use it, the electronic signal board announced enigmatically “This Train has been cancelled because because of a Train” only as an afterthought adding the word “fault”. Once on, the train affords some interesting views of the post-industrial landscapes, with their gravel pits and abandoned brickworks. My previous experience of Bedfordshire has always been of the inner-city prejudiced variety, ie “get through it as quickly as possible to get to a real place”. We have now been taught by the likes of Ian Sinclair to value these apparently liminal non-spaces in the English hinterlands. Sally Annett, who lives here, is no exception, talking eloquently of the history of brick-building, local myths and of course Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress which she is artistically (currently) enchanted/obsessed, pointing out the landmarks on the Icknield way and little corners of the landscape that are reflected in the life of the dissident evangelist who lived and worked here.
With Annett I have actually climbed the Hill of Difficulty, viewed the spire of the Church of the Village of Morality (which now with centuries old irony looks down onto the ‘Satanic Mill and Motor-highway’) and entered the actual Slough of Despond. I am not sure if I have seen the Celestial City, unless that is Bletchley Park, with its rebuilt Colussus and Enigma Machines, the ghosts of Alan Turing and his mainly female human ‘computers’, at the end of the line, boffins travelling there by rail in each direction from Oxford and Cambridge on the Varsity Line. Moreover, at the edge of the Slough of Despond there is Light at the end of the Tunnel, to stretch a metaphor till it squeaks. The East-West Rail Consortium project has been funded and is aiming to re-open the Varsity line, at least from Bedford to Oxford again by 2020 (the Cambridge section has been built over), hence the support for accompanying public art projects like Sally Annett’s Contemplation Seats.
It is always difficult to do art projects that engage with large-scale infrastructure like railways, without becoming illustrative and decorative additions to the travelling environment. Somehow health and safety issues and anxieties about public perception always become magnified around trains and those who operate them. Sally Annett’s simple statement of a chair on a platform should be seen as a straightforward but evocative gesture, suggesting waiting and a sense of personal time as part of a unique individual journey. I hope they will appear.
Rob La Frenais