Visualising earth’s rotation at real-time speed

Dated: December 26, 2014

Swiss Waldvogel’s supersonic-speed flight conjures up 4-minute video

Kochi, Dec 26: Four years ago, Christian Waldvogel boarded a plane and flew westward at supersonic speed to shoot a video that succeeded in showing that the earth “turned for a while without me”.

Today, back on the planet, that unique four-minute aerial visual by the Swiss artist is wooing visitors at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) in peninsular India.

Zurich resident Waldvogel has a zany sense of humour. “To not turn with the earth requires terrific effort, but it hints at a simple idea: humanity strives best to make no progress,” winks the 43-year-old, stationed by one of his two works on biennale display at the main Aspinwall House venue in seaside Fort Kochi.

It was on March 17, 2010 that Waldvogel succeeded in his efforts to get into a Swiss Air Force (SAF) plane and move at exactly 1,158 kilometres per hour — the rotational velocity of the earth in his native country that spreads across both sides of the scenic Alps in west-central Europe. He thus got to film the earth’s rotation while standing still with respect to the sun.

“It was a project that involved roughly 90 people; one-third of them from my side,” reveals the artist, while particularly thanking Patrouille Suisse which is SAF’s acrobatics team, for its cooperation and tenacity. “See, 1,158 kmph is faster than the speed of sound,” he notes, hailing Dani Hoesli, the Patrouille Suisse commander who piloted the military jet.

Waldvogel’s ‘The Earth Turns Without Me’ is a four-part installation at India’s only biennale, thus tuning into the core curatorial theme ‘Whorled Explorations’ where KMB’14 artistic director Jitish Kallat has assembled works that allude to cosmology often referencing this ancient city.

When Kallat met Waldvogel at Zurich in the run-up to KMB’14, the Swiss artist was intrigued by “the way Indians tilt their head” while talking. “Jitish, believe me, was the first Indian I ever spoke to in depth. He kept moving his head while responding to my ideas — so funny,” he recalls. “Soon I could make out that he is a profoundly sympathetic person.”

As for Kallat, he finds Waldvogel’s works “contemplative and sometimes even humorous”. They look at humanity from a distance and are “often grounded in intricate scientific calculations”, adds the curator of 108-day KMB’14, which shows 100 main artworks by 94 artists from 30 countries.

To help achieve his aim of remaining stationary vis-a-vis the sun, the artist converted the SAF plane’s rear cockpit into a pinhole camera that he would use to shoot the solar system’s central star. Why four minutes? “Each degree of longitude is equivalent to that much of time,” he cites the reason behind the span of the edited version.

Waldvogel is an architect by professional qualification. When did he first get interested this intensely in the universe at large? “Hmmm, for at least a decade now,” he shrugs. “Then, five years ago, I got a parcel from my father. It contained a large map of the moon and images of the earth from space. The despatch said it was hung in my room when I was small.”

The project was triggered by two light-box images — Earthstill and Starstill, which Waldvogel shot and are also being exhibited at KMB’14. The first reveals stars as streaks because they are blurred by the earth’s motion, while the latter is a clear image of the stars using an astronomer’s camera that cancels the planet’s motion. Then, there is also the sun’s image displayed as a concentrated point.

The artist, who was born in Austin (USA), has a second work at KMB’14. Titled ‘Recently, the non-flat-earth paradigm’ is based on his “rediscovery” that for a person in Kochi, India’s northernmost point lies 125 km underneath the horizon — a fall that is equal to 15 times the height of the country’s tallest mountain range: the Himalayas.

CB

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