Oasis 7, Haus-Rucker, Documenta 5

In 1972, the Austrian architecture collective Haus-Rucker installed Oasis Nr 7 at Documenta 5.
A steel pipe structure was cantilevered out the window of the Friedericianum, and a platform, two palm trees, and a hammock were installed. The entire thing was enclosed in an 8-meter translucent vinyl bubble.
Oasis 7 was re-created last September It was built on a fake Friedericianum facade at the Victoria & Albert Museum for the exhibition, “Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970.
Haus-Rucker project archive [ortner.at]
Time lapse making of video: Oasis 7 in the Victoria & Albert Museum [iconeye.com]
via atelier, where I’ve been lifting all sorts of interesting things this week.

Mariner 2 Float In The Rose Bowl Parade

Amazing to think that all this was happening at the same time as the satelloons of Project Echo and just five years after Sputnik.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory director William Pickering was the grand marshal of the 1963 Rose Bowl Parade. Behind him followed a float of the Mariner 2 space probe, which had successfully reached Venus in December 1962.
A Venus made of roses with a flower satellite probe orbiting it. And a little window cut out of Venus so the driver can see. Fantastic.
Mariner 2 Rose Parade Float [nasa jpl via nasaimages.org]

Oh Mighty ISIS!

It seems the Pentagon has gotten wind of my master plan to re-create satelloons, the giant, inflated satellites with the integrated reflective communications capability, and they’re trying to beat me to the punch with a $400 million, 450-foot-long, inflated surveillance “airship” which would operate for up to 10 years at an altitude of 65,000 feet:

The Air Force has signed an agreement with DARPA to develop a demonstration dirigible by 2014. The prototype will be a third as long as the planned surveillance craft — known as ISIS, for Integrated Sensor Is the Structure, because the radar system will be built into the structure of the ship.

Uh, shouldn’t that be ISITS? Who names these things? Isn’t including “is” in your acronym cheating, like using all monosyllabic words in your haiku? But whatever, 150-foot prototype!
Pentagon plans blimp to spy from new heights [latimes]

High Five To The Warhol Foundation Arts Writers

Awesome, I just read through the announcement of the 2008 Arts Writers Grant recipients, and I have to give a huge shoutout to Paddy Johnson whose Art Fag City is one of the first two blogs to be recognized by Creative Capital and the Warhol Foundation [the other is Guerrilla Glass, a “post-glass art” blog project by Anjali Srinivasan and Yuka Otani.]
The Arts Writers program has danced around the new media for three grant cycles now, but this is the first time their solicitation explicitly mentioned blogs. Needless to say, it’s about time, and Paddy’s project is highly deserving and should lend the Arts Writers program some nice publicity and online cred.
Which is ironic, since the reason I applied for a grant last cycle was to leverage CC’s and the Warhol Foundation’s credibility for what would otherwise have to be seen as a cockamamie scheme. I had proposed a blog about the art history of satelloons. The idea was to consider NASA’s Project Echo inflatable satellites–instantly obsolete but spectacularly beautiful mylar spheres which were visible to the naked eye–as an exhibition, a propagandistic and aesthetic exercise akin to the US government’s better-known Cold War-era promotion of Abstract Expressionism abroad.
That would give me the impetus to research and document the development and history of the satelloons from primary source material. But it would also be a stepping-off point to explore the history of art and politics in the Space Age, Pop and Minimalist contexts; the history of art and technology collaborations, including the artists who worked with Bell Labs, a key Project Echo participant. [I especially wanted to see if I could trace the use of mylar balloons from Project Echo through Bell Labs’ black box to Andy Warhol.] By looking at scientifically driven production from an art world vantage point, the satelloon blog would question the defining premises of art, especially intentionality and the aesthetic experience of the viewer. It’s all stuff I will probably pursue here with slightly less urgency over the next year or so.
Just as it was reassuring to see Paddy’s excellent writing recognized, it made me feel slightly less marginal that at least two other grant recipients have projects that resonate with my satelloon idea, if not quite overlap. Art historian Douglas Kahn was awarded a grant for Arts of the Spectrum: In the Nature of Electromagnetism, a book about an intriguing vein of art&science interplay. And Annette Leddy, from the Getty Institute, is writing an article on Robert Watts’ “Space Age Home,” an artist in the 1960’s who apparently “extensively re-imagined the home, its furnishings, and its gardens in terms of an ironic Space Age aesthetic.” No idea, but it sounds like the future to me. Or at least the history of the future.
see the full list of Arts Writer grant recipients and their projects [artswriters.org]

Note To Self Re: Dome Projection Using Spherical Mirror

There’s nothing specific on the horizon, but the way things are going, what with all the domes and mirrored domes and Buckminster Fuller and movies and all around here…
I mean, you never really know–and by you, I obviously mean me–so I thought I’d just go ahead and put this link to Paul Bourke’s patented system for projecting onto a dome using a spherical mirror, which he developed in 2003.
Actually, it seems to use a hemispherical mirror, and there are apparently inflatable domes for all your portable indoor planetarium needs–according to the FAQ, a 3m inflatable dome is ideal for half a dozen adults or a dozen children–and seamless works better than paneled.
Another note to self: I don’t care what they call them in Wollongong, but I will not be calling them Sphemirs. And probably not Mirrordomes, though that is much better.
Dome projection using a spherical mirror
Variously referred to as “sphemir” or “mirrordome”,
Conceived by the author in 2003
[uwa.edu.au via city of sound]

For The Record, I Am Not Daniel Young & Christian Giroux

Though with their combination of Ikean sculpture, reconstituted Cold War satellites, and geodesic dome playthings, I’m now not sure I’m not actually just a random projection of their collaborative imagination.
Daniel Young and Christian Giroux began making work together in 2004. The first collaboration was Fullerene, a giant, but light mobile structure of aluminum and bicycle tires that the duo rolled around Scope Miami in 2004.
Then in 2006, they showed a trio of sculptures that took the forms [and names] of US, Canadian, and Soviet spy satellites from the 1960’s. [Quirky Canada has own laws, spy satellites!] Both the spherical Fullerene, and the satellite shapes, which were originally designed for gravity-free orbit, are pleasantly disorienting riffs on the Minimalist sculptural challenges of Judd & others, who rejected a base, thereby launching objects into space.
And then this past summer, the duo’s show at Diaz Contemporary in Toronto consisted of sculptures made from custom-fabricated aluminum boxes and Ikea tables. They’re like narrower, harder-edged, and Juddier echos of Rachel Harrison’s and Isa Genzken’s sophisticated pastiches. And I mean that in the best possible way.
Daniel Young & Christian Giroux – Work [cgdy.com via tagbanger]

PAGEOS: Second Generation Satelloon For Stellar Triangulation

When I first discovered satelloons a few months ago, I admit, I was a little disappointed to have fallen so hard for the first generation satelloons of Project Echo. This disappointment kicked in when I saw this photo of the PAGEOS satelloon being tested before its June 1966 launch. It wasn’t much bigger than Echo I [31m vs 30m; Echo II was 40m]; what set it apart was PAGEOS’ incredible mirror-like skin.
Which, I find out, was by design. PAGEOS, short for PAssive GEOdetic Satellite, was used in the impressive-sounding Worldwide Satellite Triangulation Network, an international collaboration to create a single global characterization of the earth’s surface, shape, and measurements.
Geodesy, the science of measuring and representing the earth, helped identify things like plate tectonics and the equatorial bulge. From what I can tell, the WSTN involved taking pictures of the PAGEOS against identical star fields from different points on the earth’s surface, then backing out precise values for latitude, longitude, and elevation from the photos’ variations.
Stellar geodesy was obsoleted during PAGEOS’ lifetime by lasers [more on that later], but not before the WSTN, under the direction of the Swiss scientist Dr. Hellmut Schmid, was able to calculate the accuracy of locations on the earth’s surface to within 4m. According to Wikipedia, between 1966 and 1974, Schmid’s project, using “all-electronic BC-4 cameras” installed in 46 stations around the free world [the USSR and China were not participating for some reason], produced “some 3000 stellar plates.” Photographs of the stars with a 100-foot-wide metallic sphere–designed to capture and reflect the sun’s light, and placed in an orbit that provided maximum visibility–moving in front of them.
I’d love to see some of these plates, or find any useful reference sources beyond the kind of scattershot, autotranslated Wikipedia articles.
Balloon Satellite [wikipedia]
Stellar Triangulation
Hellmut Schmid

Les Satelloons Du Grand Palais

Promenade is Richard Serra’s commission for Monumenta, the contemporary arts program inaugurated last year in the nave of the newly restored Grand Palais in Paris.
Serra’s work consists of five 17×4-meter steel plates set vertically along the central axis of the Grand Palais. The size of the slabs was determined in part by technical limitations of the steel mill, and in part by the dimensions of the massive, open space itself: 35m high, rising to 60m at the cupola, 50m wide, and 200m long.
So Serra Schmerra, that means the Grand Palais is big enough to exhibit my re-creation of NASA’s satelloon. At least the Project Echo I, which was 100 feet in diameter. [Echo II was 135 feet, which might be a tight squeeze.] Unlike with the other two indoor venues capable of housing the work, the Pantheon in Rome and Grand Central Station in Manhattan, Monumenta gives the Grand Palais the advantage of a pre-existing, curated contemporary art context.
In recent high-profile museum building projects from the Guggenheim Bilbao to MoMA, Richard Serra’s multi-ton sculptures have been the default unit of measure; floors must be able to bear and spaces must be able to accommodate a Serra. The continued utility of such Serra Unit-based architecture. Just as screen-based art tests the programmability of art spaces, presenting a gigantic yet inconsequentially light object like a Satelloon as an art object poses an exhibition challenge of a different scale.
Here is a rough artist’s conception:
Now all I need to do to exhibit the Satelloon in Paris is to develop a body of work and a career comparable to Serra’s and last year’s Monumenta artist, Anselm Kiefer. So yeah, let me get right on that.
Hal Foster on Serra at the Grand Palais [lrb]
Monumenta 2008, including photos from the opening by Lorenz Kienzle [monumenta.com]

Ceci N’est Pas Un Satelloon

Géode, originally uploaded by zyber.

But darned if it isn’t pretty damn close. La Géode is a mirrored geodesic dome housing a hemispheric Omnimax theatre. It’s part of the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, a science museum opened in 1986 in Parc la Villette, which I confess, I only knew as the site of Bernard Tschumi’s red follies. [There are a couple visible in the background here, and judging from this photo from another angle, they’re rightupthere next to the dome.]

At 34m across, Adrien Fainsilber’s stainless steel-clad Geode is the nearest approximation to the physical presence of a Project Echo satelloon that I’ve found. [Thanks to Stuart, actually, who tipped me to the recent post on extremely impressive shiny balls on deputy dog.]


Fainsilber’s site has more pictures, including the grainy-nice snap of the Geode nearing completion. and this amusing explanation:

Symbole de l’Univers, le reflet des nuages suggère la forme des continents et offre une vision immatérielle de l’environnement.
L’écran hémisphérique de 26m de diamètre de la salle de spectacle a engendré la forme sphérique de l’enveloppe.

Symbol of the Universe, the reflection of clouds suggests the form of continents, and offers an immaterial vision of the environment.
The hemispheric screen of 26m diameter in the salle de spectacle [heh] engendered the spherical form of the envelope

I love it, a loopy mix of grandiose over-symbolism and bureaucrat-pleasing rationalization. As if the shiny steel awesomeness of the dome was somehow just the unavoidable by-product of the program the humble architect received. [Qu’est ce qu’on a pu faire? C’est logique.] Sure beats the “but it’s art!” pitch that was the last straw for the suits backing the Pepsi Pavilion.

Also, it’s an amusing stick in the eye of the deconstructionist, “form before function” conceit that Tschumi and collaborator [sic] Jacques Derrida put forward for the rest of the park.


I don’t know the story of the creation of Parc de la Villette, but Tschumi sounds like the Robert Irwin to Fainsilber’s self-important Richard Meier. Looking at the landscaping, la Geode has gone from being a Symbol of the Universe to just one stop of Tschumi’s David Rockwellian Cinematic Promenade. Or to the electron on a hydrogen atom. Which, as I zoom in with the all-seeing Google Eye to watch the picnickers in the Parc, i realize is so true. What if the whole universe were just an atom under the fingernail of a giant?

extremely impressiv shiny balls [deputydog.com]
Fainsilber > Realisations > CSI [fainsilber.com]
CSI and la Geode, and guests reading Le Monde, apparently, and letting their kids run wild [google maps]
Metaphysics of Parc de la Villette [gardenvisit.com]


Alright, the clock is ticking, only hours to go until Jeff Koons’ largest work to date, a 53-foot high balloon based on his 1986 sculpture, Rabbit, bobs down the west side in Macy’s parade. It was made using a new material intended to replicate the original sculpture’s mirror-like stainless steel surface. Said Koons in a Macy’s press release, “I think one of the reasons why Rabbit is an iconic work, a popular piece, is because it’s so reflective. It reflects the needs of culture and society and can represent so many different things to the viewer.”
Courant’s critic wonders what I wondered, which is what other art balloons have been in Macy’s “Blue Sky Gallery” series? I can’t find any previous artists mentioned.
Anyway, Gallery or not, the Satelloon would not be able to appear in Macy’s parade; Manhattan’s avenues were laid out to be 100 feet wide, the same as the Satelloon itself. What with the streetlights and trees and whatnot, it just wouldn’t fit.
Still, I hope it’ll make a nice, intimate venue for Koons’s modestly scaled work.
Money quote: “A giant silvery rabbit that looks like a massive bunny-shaped UFO? [courant, also top image]
Rabbit inflation test shot via fashionweekdaily [fashionweekdaily.com]
Previously: The Satelloons of Project Echo
If I Were A Sculptor, But Then Again…

Cabinet’s Got Huge Balls

The Joshua Foer photo timeline, “A Minor History of Giant Spheres,” that got me all hopped up on Satelloons, is now online. It’s in the latest issue of Cabinet Magazine.
And while you should always buy or subscribe to Cabinet, the photos online are, on average, much bigger. The curse of the printed timeline format, I guess. [via kottke]
Previously: I will someday install a Satelloon in Grand Central Station, the Pantheon, and/or the Piazza San Marco.
“the most beautiful object ever to be put into space”

If I Were A Sculptor, But Then Again…


Yes, I do have a ton of other things I should be doing, but I can’t seem to get Project Echo out of my head. I really want to see this, 100+ foot spherical satellite balloon, “the most beautiful object ever to be put into space,” exhibited on earth. But where?


When MoMA was designing its new building, a lot of emphasis was placed on the contemporary artistic parameters that informed the structure. The gallery ceiling heights, the open expanses, the floorplate’s loadbearing capacity, even the elevators, everything was designed to accommodate the massive scale of the important art of our time: Richard Serra’s massive cor-ten steel sculptures.
And they did, beautifully, until just a few days ago.
But is there anything more anti-Serra, though, than a balloon? Made of Mylar, and weighing a mere 100 pounds? And yet at 100 feet in diameter, a balloon of such scale and volume, of such spatially overwhelming presence, it dwarfs almost every sculpture Serra has ever made?
The original Echo I was launched into space, but it was explicitly designed to be seen from earth. It was an exhibition on a global scale, seen by tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of people over eight years. People from the Boy Scouts to the king of Afghanistan organized watching parties. Conductors stopped mid-outdoor concert when Echo passed overhead.

L: Hayden Planetarium = 87-ft diam. R: Pantheon = 142-ft. HEY!

What would an Echo satellite do to the art space it would be exhibited in? Are there even museums or galleries who could handle it? Or is the physical plant of the art world still organizing around the suddenly smallish-feeling sculptures of, say, Richard Serra?


Echo satelloons were first seen–or shown, isn’t that why there’s a giant NASA banner draped across it?–in a 177-foot high Air Force blimp hangar in North Carolina. There are plenty of non-art spaces where an Echo could be exhibited, but that misses the whole point.
What art spaces in the world are able to physically accommodate an 10-story high Echo? A gallery or museum would need unencumbered, enclosed exhibition space of at least 120 feet in every dimension:

  • MoMA: No. the atrium is technically 110 feet high, but the sixth floor catwalk cuts across the space. Also, it’s not wide enough.
  • Guggenheim NY: No. Daniel Buren’s mirror installation went from the floor to the skylight, and it was 81 feet tall.
  • Guggenheim Bilbao: No. Gehry’s rotunda is 165 feet high [though it’s also reported as 138′ and 150′, in any case it’s taller than Wright’s, which is all Krens wanted.], but it’s also roughly cylindrically shaped, i.e., too narrow.
  • Tate Turbine Hall: You’d think “Yes,” but No. 500 feet long, 120 feet high–and 75 feet wide.
  • Centre George Pompidou: No way. ceiling’s too low.
  • Metropolitan Museum: No. the Great Hall turns out to be too narrow.
  • Getty Center: No. Meier’s atrium is impressive as far as it goes, but it only goes maybe 60 feet.
  • High Museum: No.
    Suddenly all these atriums and rotundas you think are just grossly oversized turn out to be too small. I guess the art world’s space limitations will be the constraining parameter for my Project Echo exhibition.

    echo_grand_central.jpg, greg.org

    Maybe the only thing to do is to show it in a non-art-programmed space after all. Grand Central Station’s concourse is 160 feet wide and 125 feet high in the center. And as a bonus, a US Army Redstone rocket was exhibited there in mid-1957 [via wikipedia]. It was lowered through a hole cut in the constellation-decorated ceiling.

    struth_pantheon.jpg, greg.org

    And then there’s the Pantheon, which is built on a 142-foot diameter sphere. As readers of Copernicus, Walter Murch, and BLDGBLOG will know, the Pantheon “may have had secretly encoded within it the idea that the Sun was the center of the universe; and that this ancient, wordless wisdom helped to revolutionize our view of the cosmos.” What better venue for displaying a satellite which indirectly helped revolutionize our view of the origins of the cosmos? And not that it’s necessary, but it even already has a hole in the roof.

    gregor_cube_gregorg_sphere.jpg, greg.org

    Unless I do it outside, Maybe in the Piazza San Marco, where Gregor Schneider’s 46-foot, black, shrouded Venice Cube sculpture was supposed to be installed during the 2005 Biennale. But would a recreation of a relic of American military and media propaganda be any more welcome in Venice than a replica of the Kab’aa? [So I just follow Schneider and install it two years later in the plaza in front of the Hamburg Kunsthalle? I’ll get right on that.]


    Or maybe the answer’s right in front of me, and I just don’t want to admit it. Here’s what I wrote last winter about the Sky Walkers parade staged last December by Friends With You [and sponsored by Scion!]

    It’s what I’ve always said Art Basel Miami Beach needed more of: blimps.

    The only art world venue which can accommodate a 100-foot satelloon is an art fair.
    Also of interest: A 1960 Bell Labs film, The Big Bounce, produced by Jerry Fairbanks, tells a very Bell-centric version of the Project Echo story. That horn antenna is something, though. [archive.org, via Lisa Parks’ proposal to integrate satellites into the traditional media studies practice]