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Cans and Rockets, Part 4

25.06.14
3 min
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In February 2014, Chris Woebken and I found ourselves on the way to M.I.T.’s Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about an hour’s travel away from the town of Auburn where Robert H. Goddard had launched his first rocket in 1926.

On a whim, we stopped at a Toys-R-Us and bought a couple of Estes scale model rockets and motors with the intention of playfully re-enacting the launch. Upon arriving we found the historic site, now a golf course, completely covered in snow. We barely managed and were struck by how much it visually resembled the Moon.

One month after, we held the inaugural meeting of the Society for Speculative Rocketry – named in honor of the Berlin Society for Spaceflight – at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center in Chelsea, New York City. The aim of this ongoing artistic research project is to explore the practicalities of model rocketry in an artistic context, in part through building on the work of The Extrapolation Factory, a joint project by Chris Woebken and Elliott P. Montgomery, which provides a framework for speculative thinking.

Eyebeam’s main space was transformed into “the basement of a think-tank”, borrowing widely such as the windows of RAND Corporation, with a view on a virtual Santa Monica beach. Large tables were divided into sections such as ‘speculation’, ‘manufacturing’, ‘vehicle assembly’ and ‘vehicle display’.

After spending half of the day being taught how to build a functional model rocket by a volunteer from the Long Island chapter of the NAR, participants were provided with an array of inspirational material – historical photographs, Tsiolkovsky’s drawings, NASA’s visions of space colonies and more.

Those materials served as triggers for a guided speculation process in which the participants would build a symbolic ‘payload’, an object to go into the tip of the model rocket, a scale model, nested within another scale model.

False memories, alternate presents, visions of the future or of the past. In addition to providing on-site 3D printing we also created a ‘Tsiolkovsky Kit’, a collection of items from the previously mentioned sketches, already in the shape of plastic models, thus short-cutting Tsiolkovsky’s visions and their later miniaturization as a scale model.

Day two, March 16 2014, saw a return to Auburn, MA in order to stage a performative re-enactment of Robert H. Goddard’s launch that had happened on the same day, 88 years ago.

One of the final models we launched was carrying a little camera. Although the camera was extremely light, it considerably altered the flight path of the rocket, making it ascend just a couple dozen feet before the motor burned out and the parachute deployed.

Upon viewing the video, a local expert in rocketry remarked that this flight must have almost perfectly traced Goddard’s first flight, producing the equivalent of a visual record for what wasn’t documented in 1926.

The Society for Speculative Rocketry is in a sense magical thinking through scale models. However, it is also an exploration of the dynamic flows between the wildly different ontologies that all happened within a single discipline of science and technology – roughly 150 years after Jules Verne had first published ‘De la Terre à la Lune’, a fiction which both Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and The Berlin Rocket Society cited as key inspiration.

Cans and Rockets, Part 3

20.06.14
5 min
Post

At the dawn of of rocketry, the work of the Berlin Verein für Raumschifffahrt (The Berlin Society for Space Travel) was particularly interesting. By the end of the 1920s, the Society’s launches at the ‘Raketenflugplatz Berlin’ (Spaceport Berlin) had garnered a fair amount of public the interest through newspaper articles and not least the fact that some of the rocket motors were loud enough to be heard from as far away as Potsdamer Platz. The German film industry had also taken note and at the time and director Fritz Lang was working on a big feature film for UfA titled Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon), tangible proof for the great public interest in the subject at the time.

Lang decided to involve the Society to create a realistic depiction of space travel. Hermann Oberth, credited as a scientific consultant, and his colleagues helped design the fictional space ship called ‘Friede’ (Peace), largely based on Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s sketches and to some extent on the Society’s own vehicles which at the time were still at the scale of today’s model rockets. In fact, at one point of the movie’s narrative, a model of the rocket Friede is scrutinized by experts before the actual voyage to the Moon, props of props.

The movie itself is remarkable in how much it anticipated images that were to be realized during the space race which was partly fought with cameras. (In ‘Fashioning Apollo’ Nicholas de Monchaux talks about how the American space program was largely to created for one photo – an American standing on the Moon).

Presumably because of the involvement of Oberth and his colleagues, Fritz Lang’s Frau im Mond pre-visualized with remarkable accuracy not only technological aspects things like rocket assembly facilities and launch pads such as the ones later erected at Cape Canaveral but also humans and liquids floating in weightlessness and even the famous earth-rise picture, taken on December 24, 1968 during Apollo VIII. Astronaut William Anders was so taken by surprise by this celestial photo-opportunity that it is safe to assume that he had not watched Woman in the Moon.

And there were yet more ways that UfA’s film project helped significantly advance early rocketry through a curious kind of fusing of the realities of fiction and engineering. Looking for a spectacle to promote and celebrate the first screening of Woman in the Moon at Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm in October 1929, UfA had intended to launch an actual rocket at the heart of Berlin and paid the Verein a significant amount of reichsmark towards design, construction, testing and launch. It would be been the first time for rocketry to cross the border from a functional model to an actual vehicle – funded by an industry which deals in fantasy.

The launch from Kudamm did not happen (luckily since according to Robert Nebel it might have resulted in a major disaster) and neither did an alternatively scheduled event to accompany the film’s premiere in the United States – the American release had overlapped with the emergence of ‘talkies’ and the interest in films such as Frau im Mond with all their over-acted jealousy and heroism immediately dwindled, turning it into the “last great silent film” – that never quite made it out of Europe. Its impact on space flight, however, was immense. The Society made rapid progress and was already making plans for the first manned vehicles when in 1933 the Nazis made it illegal for civilians to engage in rocketry. Tellingly, they also raided UfA’s production offices, seizing all props from the movie.

Meanwhile in the United States, Robert H. Goddard was launching rockets but nobody knew. Although he had published a range of scientific papers on the subject, his practical efforts at developing liquid-fueled rockets were unknown to Oberth and his Verein für Raumschifffahrt. They felt like true pioneers while in fact Goddard had made a first successful flight as early as 16 March 1926 in Auburn, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, there is only scarce evidence of the event, partially because the operator of the documenting movie camera had fled after apparently having been overcome by “fright” of the explosive device fuming in its metal launching frame. The rocket reportedly flew a short distance and then crashed into Goddard’s Aunt’s icy cabbage field. Years of experiments with ever larger vehicles followed until here as well the government realized the importance of the technology and stepped in.

In Germany, the Nazis had devolved rockets back into formidable and terrifying missiles, in part because of their randomness owed to imprecision and malfunction, especially the V-2. It was created largely under the auspices of Wernher von Braun (second from the right in the photo above) and manufactured by an army of slave workers.

The launch operations at Peenemünde in northern Germany took further cues from Woman in the Moon, such as the countdown, the black-and-white markings of spacecraft, which were still found on ships like the Space Shuttle. Presumably to avoid more fright of camera operators von Braun’s engineers also gave CCTV to the world.

After the war, von Braun was whisked almost immediately to the United States as part of ‘Operation Paperclip’ and the American and German efforts at rocketry thus somewhat converged, leading to both the creation of intercontinental ballistic missiles and the Apollo program. Throughout his whole career at NASA he was mostly depicted with models of the creations of his agency – toys and trophies of an engineer.

In 1946, the first staged version of the V-2 called Bumper became the first human-made object to travel to space above the desert of New Mexico. Not only did this prove Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation right, it was also painted in the same black-and-white pattern of the rocket Friede and carried instead of a warhead a film camera, like in a scene of Woman in the Moon.

Berlin oder Juste Milieu

by
Carl Sternheim
20.06.14
80 min
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(W)hole

19.06.14
4 min
Post

I glance at the tip of my clitoris every time I go to the toilet and think about the glans it could have been. I follow my clit’s covered part with my fingers, that tiny stick full of nerve endings that ends in that micro-glans and think of the phallus that could have been and how big it would be, how large. I feel like I fell short during my stay at my mum’s uterus, that there’s something wrong, something missing. I wonder if that emptiness I feel is related to that. Freud may have been a misogynist asshole for a lot of things but maybe he was right about this. I also feel a bit like an asshole when I think this way about it; when I think this way about it and observe how beautiful women are, and how strong and all the incredible things they do and how hard I find it to be a woman sometimes even though I love it and how much of a fool and weak I am, don’t forget oversensitive, and sometimes I would just love to have a cock hanging from my body, because better too much than too little. And that amazing sensation of relieve and satisfaction when a phallus fulfills all that emptiness and how I would love for it to stay in there forever and then never feel again that it is too little nor too much. Men don’t feel it’s too much; they just see that too-muchness coming out of their body but embrace it fully as part of it. They don’t feel something’s missing either, that their penis should always be embedded and belong to that another huge missing part called woman. He finishes and everything finishes, that emptiness of having to surround themselves by the walls of an obscure and humid cavity which is surrounded by the body of another being also finishes.  A woman starts and her body demands more…Or less. Less emptiness. No emptiness at all, ever. Women get used to the emptiness as time goes by, it even seems that everything gets closed up to pretend nothing ever happened there and that nothing was nor is ever needed, in order to maintain their own mental health. Another concept in which I believe and also makes me feel a bit of an asshole, but I believe in it due to my own experience, is hysteria. I really get hysterical and it’s only completely soothed when the missing part gets inside my body. I don’t know how real is this and I also observe that women adapt to calmer times but I also feel they lose their glow and when their awfully called (but sometimes super real) emptiness gets fulfilled, that glow comes back and hysteria, although it has been soothed, truly vanishes from under their skin where it was hidden. Men also have this problem, but they have an easier way to solve it, I think…Sometimes they don’t really need quantity and sometimes not even quality, whereas women need both. I wonder if I would really feel better if my ovaries would’ve come all the way down to the labia and turn into testicles, if that clit and minor labia would have continued their development to turn into a penis, if the only fluid coming out of me would show up only in times of pleasure. I think about how similar feminine and masculine bodies are and how our development inside the womb makes us so different, noticing this similarity in details like how the clit looks like a tiny glans and major labia like testicles and how both of us have nipples even though men don’t really use them and how good they look on them anyway. I think about how we really are only one genre whose parts developed differently.

John Holten
People

John Holten. The name says it all. Well, actually not, if you don’t know John Holten it will say nothing, but once you meet John Holten, the name will say it all once you hear the name John Holten. To me, hearing the name John Holten, a strong image will appear in my mind. I’m not saying he is Messiah, Jesus, or Steve Jobs, I’m saying he is John Holten. John Holten wears a suit, sometimes not. John Holten wears a coral-blue towel on his head, but most often not. John Holten has a beard, most often always a beard with real honest substance. John Holten meets you in a cafe on a cold January day and tells you that you are the first person he encounters after having spent several months working in a warzone. Not figuratively, but literally, a warzone. John Holten, recently also went to Warzaw, not a warzone, but a rhyme, to play a character in a performance. John Holten was not in Warzaw to play John Holten, but something similar. John Holten played another person within the body of John Holten. But nevertheless I insist, on this strong honest fact: there is nothing but one John Holten. One Holten for one John. So, what do you say, how about meeting John Holten, soon? You should. You should put a face to the name, a figure to the sound. John Holten. I can highly recommend a meeting with John Holten, whether its January or June. Meeting John Holten is a pleasure, in both temperatures.

Photo by Pedro Jardim

Sascha Pohflepp
People

Sascha Pohflepp is an artist and writer based in Berlin and elsewhere. In his work and research he aims to probe the role of technology in our efforts to understand and influence our environment, extending across both historical aspects and visions of the future. His artistic practice more often than not involves collaboration with other artists and scientists. Sascha’s writing has appeared in magazines such as Under/Current and Volume and he is an editor with VVVNT. For the book Synthetic Aesthetics: Investigating Synthetic Biology’s Designs on Nature which is out now on MIT Press he has co-authored an essay on the notion of living machines.

Queen Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 6, Part 3

09.06.14
2 min
Post

Golden Jubilee: 21 June 1887, at Buckingham Palace
Part III

Ekstasis: at the door of Westminster Abbey, a hole in my wall, you cause me to stand. I was received by the clergy, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Dean at their head, their swollen capitation, in the copes of rich velvet and gold, which had been worn at the Coronation. My bloated pronoun leaks privately. The crowds from the Palace gates up to the Abbey were enormous, and there was such an extraordinary outburst of enthusiasm as I had hardly ever seen in London before; all the people seemed to be in such good humour. (She aches internally clawing for not enough): scanning a set of words for who’s inflected conditional; scanning pics for a future past infidelity like whose? The old Chelsea Pensioners were in a stand near the Arch (of my aching back). The decorations along Piccadilly were quite beautiful, and there were most touching inscriptions (in lower case). Seats and platforms were arranged up to the tops of the houses, the scaffolding of face and threshold, and such waving of hands, those who could not find a face, a wild groping. I offer mine, sore and picked on, apparently open. Many schools out, and many well-known faces were seen and unheard, notorious.

Cans and Rockets, Part 1

05.06.14
4 min
Post

This series of posts, based on an artist talk delivered in April 2014 at LEAP Berlin, will focus on the role of scale models and simulation models, the former making something large or complex, past or not yet existing tangible, the latter constituting a computational abstraction which through its predictive qualities may end up having an influence on the world itself. Two projects will serve as examples, both collaborations with New York City-based Chris Woebken, created during a joint residency at Eyebeam Art & Technology Center: The Society for Speculative Rocketry and Elsewheres.

In its larger scope, the discussion also relates to another artistic research project, The Supertask, a collaboration with Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg initiated by the University of Southampton – an investigation into whether it would be possible to create a model of the whole world, or a world from models.

Scale models entered my world in 2009 when working on a piece titled The Golden Institute, a counterfactual history scenario set in the United States of a parallel universe. Here, Ronald Reagan has lost the presidential election of 1980 and Jimmy Carter remained in office. History tells us that Reagan swiftly abandoned Carter’s tender efforts at research and development of alternative sources of energy (perfectly embodied in the de-installation of a solar heating unit on the roof of the White House). In my narrative, Carter goes-all out on such technologies, turning the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO into The Golden Institute.

Carter, channeling his inner JFK, publicly states his ambition to make the United States independent from foreign oil before the end of the 1980s and endows the Institute with funds comparable to an Apollo-age NASA. Granted such powers, it pursues all kinds of projects, ranging from planetary scale weather-engineering in order to harness the power of thunderstorms in Nevada’s new ‘Weather Experimentation Zone’, all the way down to subsidizing individual Americans’ efforts to draw electricity from the artificial skies, an entrepreneurial vision of the mythical experiment that founding father Benjamin Franklin performed with his kite in 1752.

I chose to partially materialize parts of this narrative through objects for Douglas Arnd’s office, the fictional chief strategist, who is modeled after the likes of RAND Corporation’s notorious Herman Kahn. Scale models that are in fact trophies of the projects that make the Institute the most proud. One of them, a 1985 Chevrolet El Camino roughly at a scale of 1:20, is fitted with a huge lightning rod and towing a trailer full of supercapacitors to hold the electricity. It is everybody’s older cousin’s car, but modified to go lightning harvesting for profit, at approximately $400 per strike. The perfect demonstration of the way in which the Institute’s work has affected the lives of ordinary people.

Looking at the model’s 3D-printed parts, just moments before they were sent for chrome coating by the same London company that gilded C-3PO for Star Wars in 1977, I realized that I had created not a trophy but a toy – in fact one that very much resembles the ones I had been assembling as a child, mostly of American fighter planes.

Scale models do occupy a curious space between both past, present, future and in terms of our personal and collective imagination. My American fighter planes, often manufactured by Revell Plastics GmbH, a German subsidiary of a Californian company, are for instance in essence an iconic manifestation of real technologies. They were, gleefully appreciated, projecting American air power right into my kinderzimmer, billion-dollar projects distilled into a few grams of cast grey plastic. And, after successful assembly and decoration they may advance to being toys, elevated by imagination, and thus gain a performative function. But they rarely do fly.

When Syrian Men Dance

29.05.14
3 min
Post

The “History repeats itself” saying comes in dozens of variations attributed to a lot of smart people. A lot of not so smart people will hang on to that principle and fish for historic parallels to try to prove a point. Here’s such an attempt. Baabda, Fayyadiyeh, and Yarzeh are a troika of towns just outside Beirut on the mountainous road to Damascus. Baabda houses Lebanon’s presidential palace, Yarzeh its Ministry of Defense, and Fayyadiyeh a large military base. There are also a bunch of bakeries, gas stations, and trees that double as urinals since many travelers use that stretch of the highway as a first pit stop on what could be a longish road trip. Technically, the eastbound lane can take you all the way to the Pacific coast of China, but realistically the longest trips undertaken by casual travelers end in Amman, Jordan. Truckers and religious pilgrimage buses reach the shores of the Persian Gulf. Of course, here I’m talking about in times of Peace. In times of war, most sane people tend to stay off the road. The 1975-1990 version of the Lebanese civil war ended after General Michel Aoun, head of one of the multiple Lebanese Armies and Governments at the time, lost his last stand in these 3 towns. Thousands of Syrian men armed with tanks and fighter jets took control of Baabda, Fayyadiyeh and Yarzeh, and danced in victory celebrations while carrying portraits of Hafez al-Assad. The General left the presidential palace in Baabda and sought refuge at the nearby French Embassy. He would later be exiled to France. Today, twenty five years later, the smog that hovers in this area just above Beirut is thicker, but that same dude is back from France and is a leading candidate to fill the top vacancy at the presidential palace in Baabda. Also today, and also twenty five years later, tens of thousands of unarmed Syrians–mostly men–filled the streets of Baabda, Fayyadiyeh, and Yarzeh, and danced while carrying posters of Bashar al-Assad, Hafez’s son. They went to cast their vote in the Presidential elections at the Syrian Embassy there. The crowd was called the largest Syrian gathering outside Syria. Ever. Unlike twenty five years ago, the tanks and fighter jets today are doing their thing on the other side of the border. It’s not exactly history repeating itself. It’s more of a bizarro universe remake of events. But hey, it’s desperate times. If this image ended a war once, it can do it again. With any luck, 25 years from now the Syrians– just like the Lebanese today–will be without a President.

Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 1.2, Part 10

19.05.14
3 min
Post

Coronation: Thursday, 28 June 1838, finale Part X

After dinner, before we sat down, we undid our slipper, we lit fires in outlying neighbourhoods, we lit the flood lights on the lawn, we spoke of the numbers of Peers at the Coronation, which Lord Melbourne said was unprecedented. I observed that there were very few Viscounts; he said “there are very few Viscounts”; that they were an odd sort of title, and not really English; that they came from Vice-Comités; that Dukes and Barons were the only real English titles; that Marquises were likewise not English; and that they made people Marquises when they did not wish to make them Dukes. The titles excited my appetite, I asked him to repeat them on my tongue – Viscounts: my tongue on your labia minora; Duke: my tongue at the entrance of your cunt; Baron: my tongue sweeping the head of your cock; Marquise: my tongue circling your ear. I then sat on the sofa for a little while, my hands beneath an elaborate bouquet of crinolines, fingers like spiders pulling at my little black hairs. Mamma remained to see the Illuminations, but only came later, as she lives a delayed fantasy. I envy her patience. I said to Lord Melbourne when I first sat down I felt a little tired on my feet, and I teetered my slipper thus (impatiently). I spoke of the weight of the robes etc., and he turned round to me and said “the weight of the civic architecture is your bondage, and Queeniepoo you wear it regally, as in, with model indifference.” He said so kindly, “And you did it beautifully, – every part of it, with so much taste; it’s a thing that you can’t give a person advice upon; it must be left to a person.” To hear this from this kind impartial friend, gave me great and real pleasure – my fingers squirmed between the lips of my regal and indifferent cunt, but I bore no smile for the Lord. Instead I spoke of my intending to go to bed; he said, “You may depend upon it, you are more tired than you think you are.” I said I had slept badly the night before; I dreamed he lay dead beside Mamma, sunlight pouring in through the condominium window upon their blue faces, cigarettes in their eye sockets, his cock a mucus-sheathed weathervane I had to suck dry in order to live another day (according to the burglar who had murdered them, who was my father), and I wore sunglasses so as to appear as though I took pleasure in the deed. He said that was my mind, and that nothing kept people more awake than any consciousness of a great event going to take place and being agitated by impending celebration. Stayed in the drawing-room till 20 minutes past 11, but remained till 12 o’clock on Mamma’s balcony looking at the fireworks in Green Park, which were quite beautiful.  I thought about smoking 18 cigarettes, one for each of my long years. I thought in time each pull and each exhale, treasuring each billow of smoke in my lungs, and the sensation of each cloud caressing my throat as I exhaled. I wanted every drag to last another lifetime, to achieve 18 coronations in one night. I thought in time of you.

Cans and Rockets, Part 4

25.06.14
3 min

Cans and Rockets, Part 3

20.06.14
5 min

Berlin oder Juste Milieu

by
Carl Sternheim
20.06.14
80 min

(W)hole

19.06.14
4 min

Queen Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 6, Part 3

09.06.14
2 min

Cans and Rockets, Part 1

05.06.14
4 min

When Syrian Men Dance

29.05.14
3 min

Victoria's Public Secret: Chapter 1.2, Part 10

19.05.14
3 min