Picasso And Einstein In The Sky

ARTISTIC SCIENCE: The launch of South Africa’s first nanosatellite will be commemorated in Khayelitsha.
Diary of a Nanosatellite, a one off public procession in Khayelitsha by artist Liza Grobler with CPUT’s Space
Programme and part of Art Week, is on Saturday at midday. Art Week runs until December 7.
Lucinda Jolly previews:

“IT IS only through science and art that civilisation is of value,” wrote Henri Poincaré, the great 20th century French polymath. Liza Grobler’s performance piece, Diary of a Nanosatellite, forms part of Art Week. Now in its second year, Art Week sees galleries, museums, arts organisations and artists collaborate to create a strong public focus on the art scene in Cape Town. Science and the arts have always been inextricably linked. Stereotypically they may be regarded as having an uneasy relationship, where neither party really trusts or even respects the other. But both rely on creativity and sometimes each other. There are even times they find themselves working on similar problems from different points. Without science, particularly mathematics, there would have been no European Renaissance and the power to create a believable 3D illusion on a flat surface. This approach relied on a single vanishing point to suggest depth so that the viewer felt they could actually enter the artwork.

Then along comes Picasso and smashes the thousand-year-old cyclops vision. His painting took into consideration that we have two eyes – that each see slightly differently – and recognises that we inhabit both space and time. Picasso is considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century and Einstein the most important scientist. It has been suggested that they were both working on the same problem – a profound way to represent space and time. They never met, but according to Arthur I Miller, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science and author of the Pulitzer nominated book Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time and the Beauty that Causes Havoc, it was Henri Poincaré and his best-selling book Science and Hypothesis that linked Einstein and Picasso. Picasso was particularly impressed by Poincaré’s advice on how to view the fourth dimension, which artists considered another spatial dimension. But Picasso ultimately rejected Poincaré’s suggestion of visually showing the four dimensions separately. Instead he showed them all at once. And the result was Cubism.

Robert van Zyl, director of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology space programme, with his staff, developed South Africa’s first nanosatellite, a tiny 10cm cube, ZACUBE-1.It was launched in Yasny, a small town in the USSR on November 21, and will orbit the earth from pole to pole to measure the weather in space. Van Zyl had no previous experience of conceptual art and had never conceived that art could be used as a form of communication. At a Zero Gravity conference in Beijing he experienced how the US used the work of artist Frank Pietronigro in their presentation.

And so Van Zyl was opened to approaching artist Liza Grobler (who he met at a dinner party) to find a creative way to commemorate the launch of the satellite as so few people would have been able to witness it. He is hoping to draw the South African public’s attention to it, particularly that of South African youth, with whom CPUT has established outreach programmes. Van Zyl suggested a beaded satellite but Grobler, whose work involves craft techniques of stitching, had other ideas. Paul Klee’s idea of “a line is a dot that went for a walk” came to mind. This led to the notion of the trajectory of an orbiting satellite creating an invisible line around the earth and her idea for Diary of a Nanosatellite was conceived.

And so at midday on Saturday, a procession of 40 people made up of the Qubeka (Xhosa for continuation) beaders and engineers in dust suits – symbolic of space suits – carrying 20 large red weather balloons will walk into an open field in Kayelitsha where cows graze and children play soccer. The procession will be accompanied by the sound of a digital metronome – which makes the same pinging sound as a satellite. The group will gather around a drain that looks like a plinth onto which a 3D replica of ZACUBE-1 will be ceremonially placed. The weather balloons will be anchored in the field to mark the position of the satellite. Attached to each balloon is a motherboard and a piece of string. Although they will not be allowed to float free, the balloons will ascend to a certain height and then, prompted by the motherboard, each balloon will release a little blue parachute. Grobler suggests that “the space thus becomes a temporary installation visible from afar”. “Although all physical traces of the event will be removed on that same afternoon,” explains Grobler, “the trajectory of the nanosatellite will live on in the imagination.” Photographs of the performance will be exhibited later at Brundyn Gallery.