‘Impossible Object’: an artwork that can exist only in outer space was activated on the International Space Station
an artwork that can exist only in outer space was activated on the International Space Station
One of the few contemporary artworks ever made for and sent to outer space
‘Impossible Object’ is one of the few contemporary artworks made for outer space. A collaboration between physicist Dr. Yasmine Meroz of Tel Aviv University and contemporary artist Liat Segal, the work poetically uses microgravity physics as a medium for groundbreaking contemporary art. Launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2022 as part of the first private mission to the ISS (AX-1), ‘Impossible Object’ was activated and documented while orbiting 420 KM above the earth.
Video about the ‘Impossible Object’
Credit: Yasmin Meroz & Assaf Arviv
‘Impossible Object’ is a sculpture made of liquid water. The liquid’s three-dimensional form does not get its shape from any vessel and as such cannot exist on earth, but only in outer space in the absence of gravity. The sculpture is built as a composition of brass rods and tubes, resembling a wavy staircase with no directionality, through which water flows. With no gravity to direct it downwards, the water adheres to the sculpture’s metal structure, forming a dynamic three-dimensional liquid composition – shaped by water’s surface tension coupled with adhesion forces that make it cling to structures. The work questions shape and form: In the absence of gravity, what is the shape of a piece of sea or a handful of wave? As space tourism becomes tangible, and no longer focuses solely on technological and scientific goals, Segal and Meroz reflect on the place of culture and art in our lives, on earth and beyond.
The outcome of this first-of-its-kind artistic experiment in outer space surprised even its creators. Segal and Meroz had speculated that the water would enfold the sculpture and that the liquid’s shape would echo the structure’s wavy form. In practice, the water formed a few large spheres gently attached to the sculpture, with their shape and motion affected by the underlying structure. Moreover, the large drops acted as lenses, encasing reflections from the Space Station’s surroundings. Multiple parameters influence these behaviors, some depending on physical properties and others on activation in space. In this sense, accepting the loss of control, and the passion for unveiling the unknown, are an inherent part of the artwork.
Meroz and Segal first met during their MSc studies at Tel Aviv University, but their life trajectories diverged when Yasmine chose to pursue an academic career as a researcher, while Liat’s path shifted to fine arts. Years later, they were reunited when TAU’s Genia Schreiber University Art Gallery commissioned their first joint artwork, ‘Tropism’. Today they are both fervent advocates for art-science collaborations, regarding them as ‘fairy dust’ that ignites new ideas in both science and art. As leaders in their fields, Meroz and Segal hope that ‘Impossible Object’, the first artwork in outer space ever created by two women, will inspire many other women to pursue their dreams.
The work ‘Impossible Object’ was supported by:
European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program (GrowBot)
The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University
Videos and images onboard the ISS were taken by Eitan Stibbe, as part of the Rakia Art Mission (Ramon Foundation).
Rakia Art Mission curator: Udi Edelman
Press release from Tel Aviv University.