Julijonas Urbonas uses 3D scans of gallery visitors’ bodies to create an artificial asteroid

Exhibiting from 29 February to 10 May 2020 at Collective’s City Dome in Edinburgh, the multi-disciplinary Lithuanian artist explores the notion of gravity.

11 February 2020

Lithuanian artist Julijonas Urbonas has made a name for himself at the intersection of critical design, amusement park engineering, performative architecture, choreography, kinetic art and science fiction. For almost a decade, the PhD student at the Royal College of Art has been working to develop various critical tools of negotiating gravity. A fantastic yet mind-baffling notion, the artist has coined the term “gravitational aesthetics,” to encompass this newfound genre, and has created works such as a killer roller coaster and an artificial asteroid made up entirely of human bodies in a unique body of work.

Exhibiting from 29 February to 10 May of this year, Julijonas’ Planet of People is showing at Collective’s City Dome in Edinburgh, and then at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale where the artist will represent his birth country, Lithuania. The exhibition consists of six large 3D scanners, which scan the bodies of visitors, then use the 3D scans to form a new celestial object in a simulation based on astrophysics. He describes it as an “artistic and scientific feasibility study," based around the idea of sending humans to L2, a point in space with no gravity. In this space, frozen bodies would float freely due to the absence of gravity until, gradually, the bodies would converge into an increasing blob due to weak gravities. And just like that, “a new ‘human’ planet is extra-terraformed.” A kind of “comic fossil of humanity”, or in other words, “a monument of humans to humans.”

The idea for this thought-provoking artwork came about through Julijonas’ larger project titled Cosmic Lithuanias where the artist began to rethink the Lithuanian space programme. Sparking critical discourse about his birth country’s culture, he unleashed the idea of social imagination in space. He came up with a number of original ideas; the production of extra-terrestrial vodka just an example of one of them, in this conceptually exhaustive project. Combining an idea from a previous project, Airtime, where Julijonas designed a creative strategy to send a group of people from one place to another in a way never done before, the artist pushes his imagination to the extreme in a speculation of “exo-disciplinary arts.”


Julijonas Urbonas: Planet of People

“As for this term,” Julijonas tells It’s Nice That, “I am specifically referring to a thought experiment that imagines what would happen to the arts if they were catapulted into outer space.” First becoming interested in astrophysics while conducting artistic research as CERN back in 2016, the highly academic practitioner is in fact, more interested in the ideas rather than the discipline. He explains: “To be honest, I am not particularly interested in astrophysics. Nor am I in any specific field of science until a specific idea comes up and demands for a particular scientific perspective. If you make a roller coaster that would kill the rider, you need to know a certain kind of medicine, physics, structural and dynamic engineering.” Whereas if you want to form an artificial celestial body, which Julijonas has done, you 100 per cent need to know about the planetary sciences.

For Julijonas, art and science isn’t all that different. Their relationship enriches and supports each other, providing new tools to see the respective disciplines from different perspectives. In his hypothetical projects, Julijonas often employs scientific vocabulary “too add the appearance of realness, viability and credibility” to the work. He likens this psychology of thought to a bit like good sci-fi, explaining: “Today, for many, science is a synonym for ‘real’, a sort of epistemological engine for the truth. However, as we now know, it is nothing but a unique flux of (inter)subjective, cultural, political, sexual, economical, technological forces.”

In this way, Julijonas’ practice combines science and art in a way that also creates a “unique kind of confusion”, investigating what is real and what is not, and what can be real or not. He cites Donna Haraway in her seminal text Cyborg Manifesto: “The boundary between science-fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.” So with all of this in mind, whatever you make of Julijonas’ work, it’s up to you.

GalleryJulijonas Urbonas: Planet of People

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.


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