Aleksandra Mir

The Seduction of Galileo Galilei

Mercer Union, A Centre for Contemporary Art, Press Release, Toronto, June 2011


17 June - 6 August 2011
Mercer Union - A Centre for Contemporary Art, Toronto

At the beginning of the 17th century, Galileo’s research came into conflict with the prevailing Aristotelian view of the earth as the centre of the universe, also the defining position of the Catholic Church at that time. Galileo’s adherence to the Copernican view that the earth orbits around the sun resulted in a charge of heresy in 1633 (for the Catholic Church to officially accept the earth’s rotation would take until 1992 when Pope John Paul II officially conceded it). While his scientific pursuits put him at odds with the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church, Galileo was himself a devout catholic who conformed to the patriarchal cultural imperatives of the church, including the confinement of both his illegitimate daughters to a convent. While the eldest daughter Sister Maria Celeste held a close relationship with her father, serving his penance for him when he was charged of heresy, his second daughter remains a silent figure, leaving an emotional void open for speculation. The sentence that Galileo endured for his role as the “father of modern science” was house arrest, ironically a form of imprisonment similar to that which he imposed upon his daughters.

In this gap between his public performance of fatherhood versus his private life, Mir proposes her own liaison with Galileo. A corrupting femme fatale, she solicits an intellectual affair with a man almost four centuries her senior in order to explore, exploit and liberate the void inherent in the telling of the myth.

According to an apocryphal tale, Galileo made his discovery of the Law of Falling Bodies by dropping objects of differing mass off the Leaning of Tower of Pisa. Mir takes inspiration from this legend, proposing a rendezvous in a gravel lot adjacent to a racetrack, where she performs a gravitational feat of her own—the stacking of a single column of automotive tires that rise precariously to the heavens. Though the column may reach the height of the famed Tower of Pisa, Mir is more concerned with the space of play that opens when failure is a permissible outcome. This impetus represents an inversion of the normal parameters and aims of construction. Though Mir relies on the highly skilled labour of the crane operator - his theoretical knowledge of physics and in-the-field experience of hoisting objects into space - her thrill is the tipping point between the expected results and the limits of control. For example, wind, the shape of the tires, the energy of the crew to gather the tires, all these determine at what point the construction will spill over.

The impulse to stack is a primordial one, visible in the play of children handling building blocks, but also apparent in the most elaborate ancient architectural wonders. Mir’s experiment is experiment for experiment’s sake and in The Seduction of Galileo Galilei she indulges the delight of failure, making the tower topple over and over again, for the sheer joy of watching the fall.

The Seduction of Galileo Galilei
is exemplary of Mir’s ongoing interest with gravity, space exploration, modern science and religion. In First Woman on the Moon (1999) she aimed at exceeding JFK’s promise of putting a man on the moon before the end of the sixties through her own initiative of putting a woman on the moon before the end of the millennium. She succeeded in her mission by building an elaborately manufactured moonscape on a beach in the Netherlands. By declaring herself the first female to set foot on this celestial body, Mir toyed with the popular conspiracy theory that posits Armstrong’s landing as a fabricated televised event. The artist has also explored aviation in various media such as drawing, collage, artist’s books, and performance. Perceiving the airplane as the single object that defines the modern era above anything else, she observes:

"From the mythology of Icarus with his wings of feathers and wax that didn’t hold up to the heat of the sun, to the actual realization of flight on an engineering level and the resultant mass aviation culture, through to the panic of terrorism and ash clouds, we see humanity at its most visionary, most banal, most complex, most extreme and most ridiculous at once."

In Plane Landing (2008), a real size helium inflatable jet is exhibited in the processes of inflation and deflation, emphasizing the messy yet inherent stages of preparation and cleanup in place of the neatly edited story of the grand achievement. Elsewhere in her work she has engaged with the uneasy relationship between cosmonauts and the church, posing the question “If angels and astronauts share the same sky, isn’t it time they were introduced?” In her series of collages The Passion (2009), also included in this exhibition, Mir melds two modes of fantasy suturing together both space rockets and saintly figures, making them share airspace. This crossroads between the hard science of gravity versus its poetic and spiritual possibilities is where Aleksandra Mir intercedes in her exhibition at Mercer Union.

Curated By Sarah Robayo-Sheridan, Director, Mercer Union, Toronto.