Defying Gravity: Students shooting for the Moon

© Justine Willa, ECAL

© Justine Willa, ECAL

EPFL's Asclepios project invites you to imagine what it would be like to travel to another world through a new exhibition hosted by EPFL Pavilions, in Pavilion A from May 4th through May 23rd. 

The name Asclepius refers to the Greek god of medicine, the central figure of the healer holding a serpent in the constellation of Ophiuchus vel Serpentarius. In the present imagining, Asclepios is the name of a project initiated in August 2019 whose aim is to organize a mission simulating a space expedition. It is linked to EPFL’s [email protected] student association, whose mission is to make space sciences more accessible to the general public. Asclepios is one of the first initiatives in the world to propose an analog mission to space, an initiative developed entirely by students, for students, with the help of academic institutions, scientists, as well as industry support. Asclepios has teamed up with CDH Culture and EPFL Pavillions to share their experience with the wider community through an exhibition from May 4th-23rd at EPFL Pavilions, in Pavilion A, called Defying Gravity.

On two projection walls, Asclepios presents a video and photo series that traces its history and the dynamics that led it to prepare its first mission, planned for July 2021. Photos and videos immerse visitors in the settings for the mission: the training sessions in a frozen lake or the tunnels of its base. It also provokes reflection on the context in which these images were captured. 

Defying Gravity offers a reflection on what is at stake in the first mission to other planets. It is a matter of imagining and then completing the difficult passage from reality to fiction. Analog astronauts, by definition, are not actually on the moon. And yet, in practice, they must convince themselves that they are, in other words, that the environment itself is spatial and thus inhospitable. This exhibition offers this mental and conceptual journey, as a prelude to a lived experience. 

Furthermore, Defying Gravity is also an opportunity to showcase the artistic partnerships that the project has been able to forge, inspiring the painter Nicolas Fournier and the photography student Justine Willa

Down the center of the exhibition, Nicolas Fournier, a graduate of l’Ecole Supérieure d’arts visuels (HEAD), proposes a captivating oil-on-paper frieze which follows the experiences of the Asclepios project closely. For the exhibition, he created Space Launch System, an oil on paper frieze of 910 cm by 126 cm which is installed on a central lighteddisplay box and thus becomes a kind of horizontal launch-ramp for the Asclepios project. Formally, it is almost monochromatic, produced with colors prepared from a base of Prussian blue and Van Dyck brown. It symmetrically depicts multiple scenes involving space engines, scientists, a space center, meteorites, an asteroid, a solar flare, a volcanic crater, an aurora australis. Topical elements are also inserted, with representations of the COVID-19 virus, or of the terrestrial reality such as amber fishermen in the Baltic Sea. Evoking images from science fiction or from film footage, this gigantic painting is a masterful work that tells the imaginary story of an artistic journey as well as a terrestrial and cosmic mission. 

Detail from Nicolas Fournier's Space Launch System, 2021 – Oil on paper, 910 cm x 126 cm, © Nicolas Fournier, 2021

For her part, Justine Willa explores through video and photography the relations that this training mission may have with intellectually constructed fictions.

Asclepios project photos © Justine Willa, ECAL

How to see the exhibition
On-site visits: due to the sanitary restrictions, the on-site visits are limited to 15 visitors every half hour. Please use this link to book your visit ahead, in order to ensure the availability of your preferred date and time.

Authors: Véronique Mauron, CDH-Culture, English text contributed by Monica Antohi, EPFL Pavillions