Flow Motion (Anna Piva & Edward George) – Flow Motion: Out There – 2003
First publication symposium Visibility – Legibility of Space Art. Art and Zero G. :
the experience of parabolic flights, in collaboration with the @rt Outsiders
festival, Paris, 2003
Our interest in the cosmos has its autobiographical roots in the cold war space race of the 1960’s and the landing of the first man on the moon; in black music and its traditions of the exploration of space in sound; in metaphysical and scientific writing on the nature of our universe.
These concerns with the cosmos have surfaced in a number of ways and in a variety of permutations, over the course of our art as Flow Motion, and our music as Hallucinator. Running through our work is a constant weaving of different senses of Space, which oscillate around and sometimes blur the line between sonic space and the space of the cosmos.
Our first, as yet unrealised installation, Space Is The Place (1999) was a triptych whose main theme was the uses of our solar system under late capitalism. The title of the installation came from a Sun Ra composition, and reversed Ra’s evocation of outer space as a place of, or metaphor for, the vastness of human potential and the scale of earthbound desire for freedom. We were interested in the cosmos as a space of political, military, and entrepreneurial contestation.
Parts one and two of the triptych were concerned with the use of the earth’s atmosphere as a dumping zone for the debris of space exploration, and the attempts which surfaced at the end of the 20th century at purchasing and colonising sections of our solar system.
The third section of the installation was about recent evidence of subsurface water, and possible life, underneath the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa, first observed by the astronomer and natural philosopher Galileo Galilei. We were interested in Galileo as an ambiguous presence in scientific orthodoxy, and evoked him as a reminder of an heretical, counter cultural conception of the cosmos as a space in which scientific inquiry and metaphysical reflection might exist in some kind of harmony; the cosmos as a kind of mirror of human possibility, of the poetic imagination.
The Dub Museum (Austria, 1999) approached the question of space from a musical and historical perspective. The historical context was the CIA sponsored violent political upheavals that characterised Jamaican life during the 1970’s, and the Rastafarian driven dub culture that functioned as a peaceful riposte to the internecine war.
Dub was about sculpting new spaces from song based musical structures; The Dub Museum was created in memory of King Tubby, an electrician who pioneered dub music’s refiguring of sound space. But rather than resorting to the generic sounds and rhythms of dub, the soundtrack for The Dub Museum used as its basis the treated sounds of static and radio signals: with The Dub Museum we wanted to evoke dub’s pure sense of space using, through the sounds of the cosmos itself – a means of routing one universe of sound into another.
Cosmic space and counter cultural space formed the basis of Dissolve (London, 2001). Here we used the final explosive scenes from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point to produce a kind of elegy for the destruction by the American government of the counterculture that surfaced in the 1960’s.
In formal terms we were interested in the implications this section of Antonioni’s film raised for contemporary digital art practice (while also acknowledging Antonioni’s own foray’s into this field). One of the things that drew us to Zabriskie Point was the wish of its protagonist to explode, to blow sky high (and higher) the suffocating dream environment of corporate culture. It was a wish which had a corresponding presence in the film’s exploding into space the endless array of capitalisms consumer objects, and then transforming these floating objects into purely aesthetic phenomena – colour and form, weightless, useless, mutating, mutable. An instance of purely filmic space dissolving the space of high capitalism.
This theme of capitalism in space framed the opening section of Dissolve, in which digitally treated footage of the barren landscape of Mars, as forbidding as the Zabriskie Point’s Death Valley setting, provided a very real counterpoint to Antonioni’s salute to the counter culture: Mars as capitalism’s next port of call and possible territory of expansion.
Kosmos In Blue (2000) marked a return to Sun Ra and a further working of the space of the cosmic into the space of the sonic. Proposed for Arts Catalyst’s Zero Gravity workshop @ the cosmonaut training centre in Star City, Moscow, Kosmos In Blue was to have been a staging in zero gravity of a sound sculpture using Sun Ra’s music as its point of departure, a live performance of Hallucinator material, mixing the sounds of radio astronomy with remixes of Sun Ra material, and a cd of this material plus material gathered during our trip to Star City.
With Kosmos In Blue we were concerned less with the grand political themes that characterised Space Is The Place, Dub Museum, and Dissolve, than we were with questions of troubled subjectivity, of isolation and freedom, of melancholia, and music, and whereas Galileo, King Tubby, and Antonioni had formed an unlikely group of key figures, the focal figure now was Sun Ra.
Sun Ra was without a doubt 20th century American music’s most consistent, significant advocate of a star bound earth based music. His heliocentric vision was rooted in a sense of unbelonging here on earth, a wistful, romantic but nonetheless very real sense of displacement; a kind of heightened, profound loneliness.
Ra’s music always seemed to be aimed at, or searching for, potential fellow travellers, possible cosmonauts, disaffected earth dwellers, profoundly constrained by the lack of space – physical, political, existential, spiritual – here in their own home. It was in the light of the suggestions for sound art posed by Ra’s jazz, euro-avant garde, and electronic lo-fi, that we posed another kind of cosmic music, as a way of teasing out some of the affective components in Ra’s music and thought.
We were interested in the idea of Sentics, a percussion based music technology, developed by Manfred Clynes, founder of cybernetics. Designed to make bearable the effect of protracted physical dislocation on the central nervous system of astronauts on increasingly long space flights, Sentics represented a science-based elaboration on the theme of alienation that characterised Ra’s work; space themed music as an expression of unbelonging here on earth, made here on earth, never quite imagined astronauts in their solitude or unease, producing their own cosmic music.
With our most recent installation-in-progress, Sound of Science (2002/3), our preoccupation with sonic and cosmic space took a new twist. The science community currently agrees that at least 98% of our universe is comprised of an invisible substance, dark matter. And contemporary physics tells us that at the basis of all matter is nothing else but vibrating strings, metaphorising a musical universe that somehow takes us back to the very beginning of science, to Pythagoras and the Sacred Hermetic Sciences of Ancient Egypt.
The universe in which we live, our own planet included, produces tonalities and pitch variations very close in structure to human music. This is perhaps the most unmediated of all forms of cosmic music, and it provides the basis for Sounds of Science. It has already provided the basis for live performance of our recorded work (made under the name Hallucinator) in addition to being a feature of the tracks themselves, in Messenger (2001), a track for Japanese choreographer Saburo Tashigawara’s Absolute Zero, as well the remixes of Sun Ra material (Mayan Temple Dust) performed at the Yuri Gagarin Theatre in Star City (2001).
But there’s also a concern in the titles of our tracks with the cosmos as a pre-enlightenment, metaphysical space shaped by a process of figuration, which oscillates between cosmos as an opening onto the sacred and transcendent, and cosmos as object of scientific speculation.
Red Angel, Black Angel, Moonshot, Rocket: and as with the track titles, so with the art; a concern with the blurring, the collapsing of opposing thematics into new shapes and forms. An idea of the cosmos as a space of new associations and a proliferation of new, hybrid forms and relations: the Egyptology and natural philosophy of Sun Ra finds a companion in the beatific immortalism of Nikolai Fedorov, founding figure of Cosmism, the 19th century Russian tradition of text based speculation on the place and role of humanity in the universe, and in whose trail we discovered we had been walking along for longer than we knew. The figuring of filmic space as the space of the after event, the event after action, finds a shimmer of recognition in dub’s idea of the recording as the space of a dis-figurative event which has yet to happen, and in whose occurrence recorded music becomes the pre event, the prehistory of the dub mix. The concern with Capitalism’s totalising, territorial space mission shifts from an exploration of cynical openings onto profit and domination, into a series of art based explorations of the substance of the universe itself. The heightening of the importance of the invisible and the audible in astronomy over an older idea of the universe as observable and silent, suggests new ways of experiencing the universe, which is where we came in, and where we are now.
© Flow Motion (Anna Piva & Edward George) & Leonardo/Olats, October 2003 / republished 2023
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