By Santiago Fernández

Following our series on pioneer artists creating art outside the limits imposed by gravity, it´s time to discover Arthur Woods. Unlike the artists previously mentioned on this blog, Kitsou Dubois and Frank Pietronigro, Woods didn’t fly on any parabolic flight. His art was the one to travel outside Planet Earth.

Some History

Woods was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma in 1948. Years later, his family moved to Florida, near Cape Canaveral. Maybe this explains the fascination Woods developed for space since an early age. By that time, United States was starting the Space Program and missile launching were common. We can picture Woods, still a kid, amazed while looking the modified V2 rockets flying into the air heading east to later land on the sea. Then, he held summer jobs at the Kennedy Space Center during the Apollo program. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts from Mercier University and moved to Switzerland three years later, were he lives and works since then.

In the mid 1980´s he started to devise his first space projects. He was interested in creating big space sculptures visible from the Earth. His project OURS 2000 (Orbiting Unification Ring Satellite) attempted to place a “circle in the sky” to celebrate the new millennium, using a ring shaped structure with a diameter of one km. The project wasn´t completed.

Far from giving up, Woods kept working and on May 22nd 1993 he sent to the Russian MIR space station his famous Cosmic Dancer. It was the first artwork conceived for and officially realized in a space habitat. Made from aluminium tubing measuring 35 x 35 x 40 centimetres and weighting exactly one kilogram. With its sharp angles it reminded a Tetris piece and was painted in green and yellow, as an homage to the Earth. The contrast with the space station background, were almost everything is “round” and gray, is immediate. Woods not only wanted to create an artwork that only made sense outside the influence of gravity, but also study the effect of art over the daily work and life of the cosmonauts. A video of the experience was provided and is available on YouTube.

Cosmonaut Alexander Polischuk wrote some personal thoughts from his experience with the Cosmic Dancer. He notes that art had an important calming effect in the high-stress situation of space and that it was a comforting remainder of the earth. Below some of this reflections:

“Letting go the sculpture, it spins and spins until it reaches an obstacle. The gravity does not disturb it nor does it force it to stand still…The Cosmic Dancer is an incredible sculpture, angular and unusual for the classical understanding of art. Nevertheless, it made us pleasure. And that it is a “cosmic dancer”, the English title says, we have never had any doubt. Particularly interesting was to dance with it to music…it is interesting to watch it against the portal in the background, but one has to decide whether to look a Earth or at 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”.

On the 25th anniversary of the Cosmic Dancer, Woods plans to launch the Cosmic Dancer 2.0, an intervention designed for the International Space Station during 2018. It will use a gravity independent 3D printer – specifically developed for producing objects in space. Once printed, the artwork will be assemble by the astronaut crew in situ, avoiding the need to send the artwork from earth into space on a rocket. Besides increasing efficiency and reducing costs, according to Woods, this opens possibilities for artists to have their artworks realized in space.

For further information on Woods and his work you can visit: