Journal Club

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Michael Najjar: artist in space

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German photographer Michael Najjar hopes to be the first artist in space. His space flight, as one of the certified civilian astronauts on board Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, is scheduled for 2014. Najjar hopes that by flying high above the earth, he will come to understand two primary questions facing humanity–who are we, and where do we come from?

Najjar’s ambitions for the project seem to fit the grand scale and reach of his voyage. He writes, “The outer space work series aims to elucidate the cultural dimension implicit in such technological developments and transpose it into a process of artistic transformation.” Which is to say that the artist hopes to illuminate the technology and culture of space flight by changing the context in which it is presented. He intends to bring artistic insight to the process of space flight, and says that exploring his own experience of space flight will be fundamental to the creative process.

While Najjar is not the first artist to be fascinated by space flight, his intriguing “hybrid photographs” are made up of both familiar and unfamiliar elements. For example, he writes, “’liquid gravity’ explores linkages between space, gravity and the human body. A cosmonaut levitates above the ground in an environment what seems to be an industrial ambience. The presence of the globe of the earth through a port hole dislocates the cosmonaut´s environment and puts into question the relationship between real-world and fabricated reality.”  Exhibited in Madrid’s 2013 Arco art fair in February, The “outer space” images are created using a process of manipulated digital photography.  He writes that “hybrid photography” is a term he invented for the link between analog and digital elements, and a “fusion between, realistic elements, fictive reality and simulated reality.”

It’s true that most people will have to address philosophical questions about who we are and where we come from without leaving the planet–the starting price of a suborbital spaceflight with Virgin’s Spaceship II is $200,000. For some, that might not seem unattainable. However, training in Star City, the cosmonaut training center 27 miles outside of Moscow, starts at approximately $460,000.

Najjar’s own suborbital space flight on board Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo is being paid for by a group of three art collectors, while his Star City training (usually undertaken by astronauts heading for the International Space Station) was covered by a special arrangement. Highlights of Najjar’s recently completed training included supersonic flight into the stratosphere in a Russian MIG-29 and a simulated spacewalk underwater in Star City’s Hydrolab in the Orlan-M space suit. Before becoming an actual astro-tourist, the artist expects to finish his training at the Virgin Galactic spaceport in New Mexico.

Categories: Visual Science
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