ARTIST TAKEOVER: Michael Najjar | The First Artist to Travel to Space | PHOTOFAIRS

ARTIST TAKEOVER: Michael Najjar | The First Artist to Travel to Space

German visual artist Michael Najjar impressively communicates the future vision of science and society to his audience, and is committed to creating a fantasy above reality.

To Najjar, being an artist means constantly discovering, detecting, and trying to push the limits of creativity, thus questioning the blurred boundaries between artist and scientist. A decade ago, Najjar was concerned with how information flows could reshape the city. In netropolis (2003-2006), he portrays a dense world dominated by social media and information networks, reflecting what we see in cosmopolitan cities now. 

More recently, Najjar has become increasingly concerned about space technology. In 2011, he began work on a new series, outer space. In this series, Najjar incarnates himself as an astronaut, taking part in physical training at a military level, parachuting at a height of 10,000 meters, zero-gravity subduction test, and the centrifuge test, resulting in a dynamic series of photographs. In addition, at the sixth edition of PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai, Najjar presented a standout new work titled ignition, with BANK Gallery (Shanghai). The work captures the unique moment that the Russian Soyuz spacecraft left the launch pad on April 5, 2019. Soon, Najjar will fulfill his goal to become the first artist to travel to space, when he aboards the commercial rocket, ‘Space Ship Two’, as part of the Virgin Galactic initiative. 

PHOTOFAIRS are delighted to welcome Michael Najjar for this weeks exclusive #ArtistTakeover. 

© Michael Najjar, Studio Shot. Courtesy of the artist.

Michael Najjar: My photo and video works exemplify and draw on an interdisciplinary understanding of art. I fuse science, art, and technology into visions and utopias of future social orders emerging under the impact of cutting-edge technologies. I attended the Academy of Media Art in Berlin from 1988 – 1993, where I was trained in the practices of conceptual and interdisciplinary art. During this time I immersed myself in the visionary theories of media philosophers such as Vilém Flusser, Paul Virilio and Jean Baudrillard which have markedly influenced my work until today. In 2001 I started the series Outer Space which deals with the latest developments in space exploration and the way they will shape our future life on Earth, in Earth’s near orbit and on other planets.

One essential hallmark of my work is the way it is deeply informed by an experiential hands-on approach. The performative aspect has become a fundamental part of my work process and will culminate in my own flight into space. As one of the pioneer astronauts of Virgin Galactic, I will be embarking on Space Ship Two on one of its future spaceflights. My aim is to become the first artist to travel in space.

© Michael Najjar, Final Mission, Outer Space, 2011-ongoing.

In July 2011 I saw for the first time in my life a rocket launch. This fundamental experience changed my life and inspired me to work on the topic of space exploration. The artwork “final mission” shows the very last launch of a U.S. space shuttle. Atlantis STS-135 was the 135th and final mission of the American Space Shuttle Program, the U.S. government's NASA-administered manned launch vehicle program which ran from 1981 to 2011. The Space Shuttle system – composed of an orbiter launched with two reusable solid rocket boosters and a disposable external fuel tank – carried up to eight astronauts and up to 23,000 kg of payload into low Earth orbit. Its mission completed, the orbiter re-entered the Earth's atmosphere and landed like a glider at Kennedy Space Center. The ultimate voyage on July 8, 2011 marked the last chapter in NASA’s thirty-year history of space flight whilst at the same time opening a new era of commercial space travel. I photographed the historical event on location at Cape Canaveral. When I saw the shuttle rising up into sky on thing became crystal clear to me: One day I want to be inside such a shuttle myself and fly into space.

© Michael Najjar, Liquid Gravity, Outer Space, 2011-ongoing.

The artwork Liquid Gravity explores linkages between space, gravity, and the human body. A cosmonaut levitates above the ground in what seems at first sight to be an industrial environment. In fact it´s the world´s largest hydrolab at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. Known as “neutral buoyancy”, the principle of simulating weightlessness in a huge tank of water was first developed by Buzz Aldrin for the Gemini project in the early 1960s. Since then the hydrolab has been a vital part of training for all cosmonauts and astronauts. In 2012 I started a cosmonaut training program at Star City, the work "liquid gravity" draws on my spacewalk training. I spent two hours under water in an original EVA spacesuit. The picture was taken at a depth of 12m and subsequently one element was digitally added - the Earth. The view of the globe of the Earth through the porthole dislocates the viewer’s perspective of space and questions the relationship between the real-world and fabricated reality. Being inclosed for the first time in my life in spacesuite was an unforgettable experience.

© Michael Najjar, Sands of Mars, Outer Space, 2011-ongoing.

‘Sands of Mars’ shows 3 geodesic domes placed in a landscape shot in Chile’s Atacama desert which is strikingly similar to the surface of Mars. With their formal architectural language, these habitats reminiscent of Richard Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic spheres blend in perfectly with the natural landscape; yet equally the contrast between exterior and interior that these dwellings establish is a vital precondition for any form of settlement on Mars. The work questions our capability for cosmic migration and extra-terrestrial expansion of life. The landscape was photographed during my 3 weeks journey through Atacama Desert in 2014, it´s a similar type of landscape to that found on Mars and which is often used as a testing ground for future Mars rovers. After many days of traveling through the emptiness of the desert in a 4x4 Jeep I found this magic place. Like in Ridley Scott film The Martian (2015) I had the feeling to be the only individual on the planet.

© Michael Najjar, Serious Anomaly, Outer Space, 2011-ongoing.

On October 31, 2014, Virgin Galactic´s suborbital spaceplane Space Ship Two crashed during a test flight in the Mojave Desert, California. The space plane started out from the Mojave Air and Space Port, and after reaching an altitude of 10,000m, separated from the carrier mothership. Eleven seconds later, the spaceplane disintegrated with a loud bang. Co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, was killed in the crash while the pilot, Peter Siebold, was seriously injured. I was supposed to be a passenger of this spaceship one day. 

The artwork Serious Anomaly (lead image) is a depiction of the experience of failure which is a fundamental part of human existence. The composition is a reinterpretation of Caspar David Friedrich´s iconic 1824 painting Das Eismeer – Die gescheiterte Hoffnung (The Sea of Ice - The Wreck of Hope) widely considered the supreme incarnation of the idea of human failure. The painting underscores the relationship between man and nature but also that of technology and nature; the ship crushed between the shards of ice is in fact an expeditionary ship on a mission to discover new trade routes. The work is a digital composition based on an extensive number of photographs taken by photo reporters at the scene of the crash in the Mojave Desert which have been exactly assembled to mirror the composition of Caspar David Friedrich's painting. The work questions the relationship between man and machine, and the pushing back of frontiers through technological innovation.

© Michael Najjar, f.a.s.t., Outer Space, 2011-ongoing.

The work pictures the largest astronomical radio telescope on earth. China built this staggeringly large instrument called the “Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope” in the remote and barely accessible southern mountainous region of the country. Inaugurated in 2016, the telescope was constructed in a natural sinkhole surrounded by the extraordinary mountains of the Pingtang valley. The telescope has an incredible diameter of 500 m. It can be tilted by computer to change the focus on different areas in the Universe. Radio telescopes use a large parabolic dish to collect radio waves from distant sources such as pulsars, black holes and gravitational waves. However, one of the main objectives of the instrument is to detect interstellar communication signals – picking up signals from alien civilizations. 

The composition of the artwork f.a.s.t. focuses on the relationship between the natural environment and the cutting edge astronomical instrument which for the viewer evokes a sublime experience simply because of its overwhelming size and proportions in relation to the surrounding mountains. This relationship also extends from the ground to the distant stars in the sky. I was a unique opportunity for me to portray this extraordinary astronomical instrument usually inaccessible to photographers. Searching for alien life means searching for the source of life in general and confronting a fundamental question facing humankind: where do we come from? Imagine that one day the first extraterrestrial communication signals will hit the surface of this spherical telescope. The inconceivable size of f.a.s.t is also a metaphor for the immeasurability of time and space which ranges from our own birth to the birth of the Universe itself.

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