CITY SIGHTS: Finding the science-art in New York area art exhibitions
By Julia Buntaine, Editor-in-Chief
Google, Inc Headquarters (and surrounding NYC area venues)
Imagine Science Films' 8th Annual Festival
Opening night of the 8th annual Imagine Science Films Festival, held at Google headquarters in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, was a gathering of filmmakers, visual artists, and a variety of those in the sciences including climatologists, cosmologists, astronomers, and planetary scientists. Having attended the 7th annual festival opening night I knew that despite regimented ticket sales there are never enough seats - a good sign in a culture that still routinely ignores science and has probably never heard the term 'sciart'. The theme of the 8th festival is "Air," and the opening night's sub-theme was 'Escape Velocity'.
'Escape Velocity' speaks to what happens when we take off and move beyond the layer of air that makes our planet habitable. The moon, our closest neighbor and historical destination in space exploration, inspired many of the short films screened Friday night including "Monkey Love Experiments" in which an animated monkey dreams of the space travel he has only watched on television from inside his cage. A second film, "Celestial Object," ruminates on the moon as an aesthetic object, exemplifying the circular shape repeatedly through a layered film process. "Astrobotic: the Moon and Beyond" is a documentary short on the robotics startup Astrobotic that wants to "send the first text message from the Moon" and be "FedEx for the Moon."
Given the recent news of the Mars One prospective mission, the finding of water on Mars, and the release of "The Martian" book and movie, Mars was unsurprisingly the subject of a number of short films shown Friday night. The opening film was "Missing One Player," an animated short following one astronaut's journey to find his place in the cosmos - which was evidently on Mars, at a Scrabble table, with three other humanoids who had been in need of a fourth player.
The stand-out film from the opening evening was "Mars Closer" by Annelie Boros and Vera Bruckner. Clocking in 16 minutes, "Mars Closer" was a reality-meets-fiction short starring two real-life astronauts acting as astronauts en route to Mars. The film was a mix of testimonials and flashbacks - the astronauts remember their children laughing on the beach playing in sandcastles, their wives smiling in the sun, speaking to the camera as vulnerable and honest men sitting in a space-black void. "It's weird, crying in space, the tears don't fall, they kind of pool around your eyes" one character says. As these men deal with the reality of a one-way trip, nearing their red destination, they reassure themselves and the viewers: "We're ready. We're going on the adventure of a lifetime."
While many of the films on Friday were impressive, thoughtful, and occasionally funny, "Mars Closer" stole the show because it was the only film that was fiction, and not animated. There is something - there are many things - to be said for animated films, for documentaries, and for experimental-visual films, of course. But it is hard to beat the audience engagement that live-actor fiction films elicit, and Boros and Bruckner nailed it. Rather than making you think about space, think about space travel, this film put you right in the space traveler's emotional shoes. I will end the discussion of this film the way the film ended itself, with the reveal: both astronauts/actors are, in real life, short-listed for the Mars One trip scheduled for 2024. In essence, the actors were playing out their real hoped-for, worked-for, scary, exciting, heart-wrenching, monumental dream - no wonder it was so believable.
The opening evening ended with a panel discussion moderated by author Nicola Twilley and featuring planetary scientist David Grinspoon, artist and filmmaker Su Rynard (featured on other nights of the festival), and Google engineer Jon Bedard. Their discussion, covering topics from how to see the invisible to how virtual reality technology can be used to teach students about climate change, ended in the conclusion that understanding air is really a matter of perspective - to understand air, we need perspective. Given that art is the age-old perspective giver, no conclusion could have been more appropriate for an evening of science-based film.
Catch the rest of the festival through October 24th at various NYC venues.
Visit http://imaginesciencefilms.org/ to learn more.
All photos courtesy of Julia Buntaine.