Art in Zero Gravity: Arthur Woods

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 in this blog, Kitsou Dubois and Frank Pietronigro, Woods didn’t take any parabolic flight. His art was connected with traveling 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 from an early age. By that time, United States started the Space Program and missile launches were common. We can picture Woods, still a kid, amazed while watching the modified V2 rockets flying into the air heading east to land on the sea later. Then, Woods also took 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, where he has been living and working 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 carried out in a space habitat. It was made from aluminium tubing of 35 x 35 x 40 centimetres in size and exactly one kilogram of weight. It resembled a Tetris piece with its sharp angles, and it was painted in green and yellow, as an homage to the Earth. The contrast with the space station background, where almost everything is “round” and grey, is immediate. Woods wanted not only to create an artwork that made sense outside the influence of gravity, but also study the effect of art on the daily work and life of the cosmonauts. A video of the experience is available on YouTube.

Cosmonaut Alexander Polischuk shares some personal thoughts from his experience with the Cosmic Dancer. He notes that art has 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 at 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 assembled 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 realised in space.

For further information on Woods and his work you can visit here.