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The Zero Gravity Studio: What Happens When Artists Are Sent Into Space

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In a huge industrial cylinder, brightly dressed people are floating towards the ceiling, feet first. Others spin around, float on carpets, and, off screen, vomit. This is Star City, a workplace where philosophers, cosmonauts, doctors, scientists and artists experience zero gravity.

Star City isn't some anti-gravity chamber from science-fiction - instead, in the same way astronauts are trained at NASA, the alternating G forces causing them to float in the air are created by flight.

This is a studio inside a giant cargo plane which flies in a parabola - first steeply upwards for around 30,000 feet, then freefalling the same distance - producing zero gravity for around 30 seconds. A Star City flight can last up to 45 seconds.

zero gravity
Morag Wightman dances during a 2001 flight

The organisation responsible, The Arts Catalyst, sent three groups of people into zero gravity through parabolic flights between the late 90s and early 00s. It is at their sreening event, Kosmica, that assorted journalist gather to hear those who took part share their experiences.

A short film introducing the speakers, Gravitation Off!, shows the range of responses Star City's passengers felt in zero gravity. For some it's "physically, mentally, sensually high", for others, it's a heightened awareness of their body and organs.

The studies and projects which cause people to enter Star City are wide-ranging. Kevin Fong, an astrophysicist and doctor, was interested in the effect of gravity on the human body - something he experienced first hand by vomiting repeatedly.

Artist Kay Wilson was participating in a project which saw her "immobilised with packing tape" during zero gravity. Others went 'into space' to make music, research future exhibitions or further academic study.

The irony of these intentions is that zero gravity makes it quite difficult to do very much at all. Even Fong, an aspiring astronaut and expert in the field, describes Star City as a "completely alien experience", in which "attempting to look cool for the TV" becomes pointless.

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Science and art are able to truly cross over in Star City

Wilson says that her desire to take an ultrasound machine onboard and see the impact of gravity on the body remains a project which may happen in the future.

However, her interviews with her fellow passengers cited transcendent and religious experiences, a quick blend of "fancy thinking and Homer Simpson state". Zero gravity, we hear, allows passengers to existing beyond the "boundary of the untranslatable space of the language of musicians."

It sounds intangible, but then human beings are meant to exist with two feet on the ground. It's true that few canvases are painted in space (although there are a couple in our gallery below), but records the of zero gravity experience are inspiring in themselves.

Arts Catalyst's involvement in Star City is now over; having made the first steps to putting artists, scientists and big thinkers into zero gravity, they've now left people to 'go solo' into the G forces. But who knows what kind of future space art will have? We may see an ultrasound machine float in thin air yet.

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