Theatre Director Enraptured by Space
In 1995 Dragan Živadinov, whose artistic life is connected with zero gravity conditions and with space, embarked on his 50-year theatrical process “Noordung 1995-2045”.
Dragan Živadinov was born in 1960 in Ilirska Bistrica, Slovenia. He graduated from theatre direction in Ljubljana but his work has long since outgrown the boundaries of classical theatre. Živadinov aims at the cosmos.
As he describes it his artistic life consists of two parts. The first part covers the period between 1980 and 1995 and is much marked by his activities within the controversial but internationally renowned Slovenian art group NSK (Neue Slovenische Kunst – New Slovenian Art). Živadinov named the second part, after 1995, as the post-gravitational era of his artistic action. His work is connected with zero gravity conditions and with space. He considers the gravity as the last problematic planetary force and the overcoming of it in the artistic sense as his mission.
In 1984 Živadinov was one of the founders of the NSK collective. NSK now consists of several more art member groups but the founding ones in the 1980s were Laibach, which has been the best known Slovenian music group for more than two decades; group of visual artists IRWIN; and Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre. These three were later joined by some other individuals and art collectives working with film, video, philosophy and the theory of art.
NSK actions were characteristically provocative. In its symbolism it draws on extreme nationalism, totalitarism and Dadaism. The NSK artists loved to juxtapose various, often incompatible, political ideologies. In 1987 they designed the poster that won the Yugoslavian Youth Day competition and caused a scandal. They used the work of Nazi artist Richard Klein and replaced the Nazi German flag with the Yugoslav one and the German eagle with the dove. The NSK work was presented in the award-winning documentary Predictions of Fire by American journalist and film maker Michael Benson. Slavoj Žižek, one of the most recognisable modern philosophers in the world, also appears in the documentary presenting his view of the NSK phenomenon.
Fascinated by Noordung
Živadinov started his artistic journey in the NSK Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre. The member group was also known as Red Pilot and was later renamed to Noordung. The latter name was inspired by Herman Potočnik-Noordung (1892-1929), a Slovenian officer in the Austro-Hungarian army who was retired at the age of 27 due to illness and dedicated the rest of his short life to the problem of conquering the universe. In 1929 in Berlin his work The Problem of Space Travel was published in German. He addressed the problems of rocket motors, living in space at zero gravity, and travelling in space. His work has inspired many scientists and artists, among them the NASA experts who planned visit to the moon and the co-creators of the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Živadinov was fascinated with Noordung’s clairvoyance and particularly the zero gravity question, which has been at the core of his art work since the 1990s. Herman Potočnik and Clark’s quantum computer presented the scientific basis for Živadinov’s work. He also draws from some avant-garde art practices from the early 20th century; particularly suprematism, the art movement founded by the Ukrainian-Russian painter Kasimir Malevič (1878-1935) and the Trieste constructivist ambient, group work of four artists from 1927 where they used thin threads to hang objects so as to give the impression of zero gravity. All this formed the basis of Živadinov’s conceptual abstract art he calls post gravitational art. Together with his colleagues, especially Dunja Zupančič and Miha Turšič, he has been creating unique theatre that links science with art.
In 1995 Živadinov embarked on his 50-year theatrical process “Noordung 1995-2045”. The first performance was staged in 2005. It will be followed by performances in 2015, 2025, 2035 and 2045. The show includes seven actors and seven actresses. In case any of the performers dies during this period he or she will be replaced by a remote controlled sign that was selected by each of the performers. The text the performer read will be replaced by a melody for women and rhythm for men. Živadinov says all actors will be dead by 2045 when the last performance is scheduled to take place, so there will be 14 signs on the stage.
“I will be alive then, I’ll be 85 and I’ll take the signs – the substitutes for the bodies of actors – to the equatorial orbit and placed them as the artistic satellites – umbots. In them there will be 14 sintapiens, as we named them, 14 synthetic homo sapienses; their mimesises – the photos of their faces and their biographies. They will be telemited into the depth of the universe.”
In 1998 Živadinov finished preparation for the space travel in the Yuri Gagarin centre for cosmonauts in Bajkonur, Kazakhstan. The Russian space agency was preparing the first commercial civil travel to space and he was among the 12 chosen among many thousands candidates. Živadinov says he never wished to travel into space as a child. “To become a cosmonaut is purely a mean to an end which is to carry out the Noordung 1995-2045.”
Živadinov is yet to travel to space but he has already realised a theatrical piece in space-like conditions. Biomechanics Noordung was staged in 1999 in the Iljušin aircraft that is used by Russian cosmonauts for space travel preparation. The aircraft is designed for zero gravity acclimatisation. “This was the first theatrical performance in zero gravity conditions – or if I try to be scientifically accurate in the conditions of micro gravity, because total zero gravity is practically unattainable,” he explains.
A trip to Sri Lanka
In 2001 Živadinov paid a visit to Arthur C. Clark (1917-2008) in Sri Lanka, where the writer, a dedicated diver, spent a lot of his life. Clark – known mostly as the science fiction writer and the co-writer of the script for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey – was also a superb expert of technology and an innovator. Živadinov presented his zero gravity theatrical production to him. “Clark was definitely one of the ten phenomenal people that I have met in my life – an impressive, fascinating person, who understood science, technology, the engineer logic and Hollywood,” says Živadinov.
Being a great admirer of Herman Potočnik-Noordung Živadinov has also contributed to the international renown of the Slovenian pioneer of rocket engineering. He also took part in the initiative to open a memorial room in Vitanje near Slovenj Gradec, where Potočnik spent apart of his youth and he supports the arising Cultural Centre of European Space Technologies.
Controversial Political Art
The Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) is a controversial political art collective which was formed in 1984 when Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia. Three groups – Laibach, Irwin and Scipion Našice Sisters Theatre – joined together due to their shared way of thinking and similar ways of expression through various media. Slovene musicians, actors, painters and designers started working together in an organisation producing provocative and powerful work as they began dealing with nationalist ambitions arising in Yugoslavia. A year after Slovenia’s independence NSK redefined itself as a state without time and boundaries that also issues passports. NSK art is famous for symbols drawn from totalitarian or extreme nationalist movements, often reappropriating totalitarian kitsch in Dada visual style. NSK’s best-known member is the musical group Laibach which is also the ideological foundation of the collective. Later on the organisation was joined by New Collective Studio, Retrovision and the Department of Pure and Applied Philosophy.
The NSK theatre section has been known as Cosmokinetic Cabinet Noordung since 1990, before that it changed its name from the original Scipion Našice Theatre to Cosmokinetic Theatre Red Pilot. They plan to retain the current name at least until their final performance of One Versus One in 2045. The show was first performed in 1995 and the intention is to restage it every ten years and then finally do away with mimetic theatre and establish the rule of non-corporeal art.
Noordung takes its name from the influential Slovenian space scientist Herman Potočnik Noordung. The theatre’s most famous productions have been Baptism under Triglav performed by the original Scipion Našice cast with all other NSC compounds have been involved, and Supremat performed in 2004 as part of an NSK event held in Dublin to celebrate European enlargement. The theatre founder and director is Dragan Živadinov.
The Pioneer of Space Travel
Herman Potočnik Noordung (1892–1928) was a rocket engineer and pioneer of cosmonautics of Slovenian origin that influenced and inspired generations of space scientists around the world. After obtaining a degree in engineering, he served in the First World War. As soon as he finished his service he went to Vienna where he studied rocket technologies, completely devoting himself to scientific research after his doctorate. Just before his death, his sole and revolutionary book “The Problem of Space Travel – The Rocket Motor” was published in Berlin. The book, which was in German, saw Noordung added to the author’s name. Some believe it suggests equality of directions in a zero gravity space. Over 188 pages and through 100 illustrations he himself made, Noordung first discusses contemporary discoveries and later on deals with issues of space technology. The ground-breaking ideas are supported by the concept of human travel and presence in a zero gravity environment. He proposed a space station in the shape of a rotating wheel in great detail and was the first person to calculate the geostationary orbit. He also described geostationary satellites and discussed communication between them and Earth using radio. The essential parts of his book were almost immediately translated into English and soon into Russian, while Slovenians had to wait until 1986 for a version in their language. The book was the first comprehensive basis of contemporary astronautics and cosmonautics and it influenced the American, Russian and European space programmes. It also had a major impact on science fiction authors; Kubrick’s cutting-edge film “2001: A Space Odyssey” uses Potočnik’s space station design. In his work Potočnik united his brilliant engineering mind with a vision that went beyond his time. This made him truly the first designer of space technology who also made a decisive step from an idea to its realisation. He systematically stood up for human exploration of space for peaceful purposes, always with a bold insight into the seemingly unreachable.
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