MIR Flight 001

Kevin Fong, MIR Flight 001, Star City, Russia, 2001
Kevin Fong, MIR Flight 001, Star City, Russia, 2001.
The Illyushin-76 MDK Zero Gravity aircraft, MIR Flight 001, Star City, Russia, 2001.
The Illyushin-76 MDK Zero Gravity aircraft, MIR Flight 001, Star City, Russia, 2001.

One of the most fascinating aspects of manned space flight is the state of zero gravity or weightlessness: astronauts and objects floating in air. But it is only recently that this extraordinary 'by-product' of the space programme has been recognised as a rich scientific resource, with a multitude of experiments queuing up for the space agencies' parabolic flight programmes and for the new International Space Station. To date, the aesthetic possibilities of zero gravity have barely been explored, in part due to the exclusiveness of the environment, accessible only to astronauts and scientists.

In September 2001, the Arts Catalyst took a group of London and Russian artists, scientists and philosophers to Star City, Russia, to undertake projects in zero gravity, utilising the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre's parabolic flight programme.

The Russian Federation is a nation with a large space programme. To carry out this programme it is necessary to train cosmonauts in real conditions of space flight - zero gravity. To achieve zero gravity in earth conditions, the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre uses the flight of a special flying laboratory - the Ilyushin-76 MDK - on a parabolic trajectory. They have extensive experience of these flights. The IL-76 MDK is a very large aircraft specially adapted for parabolic flight.

After the parabolic fligh, Flow Motion gave a free concert of electronic music for the people of Star City at the Cosmonauts Club.

London and Russian artists and scientists selected for the MIR flight 001 (some flying, some ground-based) were:

  • Anna Alchuk, artist and poet
  • Ansuman Biswas, artist and musician
  • Alexei Blinov, engineer and member of Raylab
  • Anthony Bull, biomechanics scientist, Imperial College London
  • Jem Finer, artist and musician
  • Kevin Fong, doctor, lecturer in space medicine, University College London
  • Edward George, musician and member of Flow Motion
  • Andrew Kotting, film director
  • Trevor Mathison, musician and member of Flow Motion
  • Judith Palmer, freelance journalist
  • Anna Piva, musician and member of Flow Motion
  • Mikhail Ryklin, scientist and philosopher
  • Morag Wightman, dancer
  • Louise K Wilson, artist
  • Andrey and Julia Velikanov, artists

Resulting projects

  • Gravity: A Love Story - Morag Wightman & Craos Mor
  • Zero Genies - Jem Finer & Ansuman Biswas
  • Wave Particle - Jem Finer & Ansuman Biswas
  • Kosmos in Blue - Flow Motion
  • Too G - Andrew Kotting
  • Universal Substitute - Andrei & Julia Velikanov

​Artists

Ansuman Biswas was born in Calcutta and trained in the UK. He is an artist with an international practice encompassing music, film, live art, installation, writing and theatre. He is actively engaged in bridging the gap between science and art. In 2002-2003 he was artist-in-residence at the National Institute of Medical Research. He has an on-going research interest in consciousness studies, in particular the subjective emotional correlates of objective physiological states.
Ansuman has shown visual and time-based art at Tate Modern, South London Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, IIC New Delhi, Headlands Centre, San Francisco, and many other galleries and museums around the world. He has worked as a composer and musician in a wide range of contexts from jazz to Indian Classical music, pop songs to industrial noise. He has been commissioned by the Sonic Arts Network, the National Theatre, the Royal Ballet, the English National Opera and Guangdong Modern Dance Company in China as well as numerous other ensembles, film makers, theatre and dance companies. His theatre composition credits are numerous as are his film and acting credits.
 

Flow Motion Anna Piva and Edward George’s 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, though their art as Flow Motion, and their music as Hallucinator. Running through their 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.

In 2001, Trevor Mathison was involved in MIR Flight 001 in which The Arts Catalyst took a group of London and Russian artists, scientists and philosophers to Star City, Russia, to undertake projects in zero gravity, utilising the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre's parabolic flight programme. Mathison was part of Flow Motion, a band of musicians and dancers who gave a free concert of electronic music for the people of Star City at the Cosmonauts Club.
Also in 2001, Flow Motion created a three part work entitled “Kosmos in Blue”; a three part work comprising of a sound sculpture taking a parabolic flight in zero gravity, a live performance mixing the sounds of radio astronomy with Sun Ra's music and a CD of these recordings. The artists were concerned with questions of troubled subjectivity, isolation, freedom and melancholia, focusing on the figure of Sun Ra.
Both films documenting MIR Flight 001 and Kosmos in Blue were screened at The Arts Catalyst's “Artists and Cosmonauts” film screening in 2002, included in the film, Gravitation Off! In 2004 and included in the publication “Zero Gravity: A Cultural User's Guide”.
In 2011, Trevor Mathison was involved in the “Specimens to Superhumans” event “All That Happened To Us” at the Roehampton University Dance Faculty in London. “All That Happened To Us” explored the implications of biomechanics of ageing and contemporary dance practice.
While traditional dance science looks at how to enable an elite dancer to achieve perfection in both performance and aesthetics, this participative event explored what we can learn from the science of ageing about how a disabled or older dancer’s body works and what they need in order to perform to full capacity and to unlock their body’s full potential.For both older and disabled dancers, achieving elite standards may be neither possible nor what they are striving for, and this event explored the nuances between the social model of disability and the medical model of ageing, to see what common ground emerges from.
 
Dr Kevin Fong is co-director of the Centre for Altitude, Space and Extreme environment medicine, an honorary senior lecturer in physiology at University College London and a Consultant Anaesthetist at UCL Hospitals. He had a special interest in the medical and physiological challenges of long duration human space missions.
Kevin has worked with research groups and senior figures at European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA’s Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Office, forming part of their artificial gravity pilot study team. He has also worked as part of the NASA team developing medical procedures for the X-38 Assured Crew Return Vehicle (ACRV ) – a spacecraft that was once set to become the world’s first space ambulance.
Kevin is also a passionate science communicator and is a regular on Horizon and BBC productions as well as delivering the 2015 Christmas lecture at Royal Institution of Great Britain.
Back in 2001 Kevin travelled with Arts Catalyst to Star City in Russia along with a line up of London and Russian artists, scientists and philosophers, to undertake projects in zero gravity, utilising the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre's parabolic flight programme.