Artwork created by TAU scientist and artist is activated on the International Space Station

"Impossible Object" can exist only in outer space

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“Impossible Object,” one of the few contemporary artworks made for outer space, was recently activated on the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting 420 kilometers above the earth. The work is a collaboration between physicist Dr. Yasmine Meroz of Tel Aviv University (TAU) and contemporary artist Liat Segal and uses microgravity physics as a medium for groundbreaking contemporary art. It was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2022 as part of the first private mission to the ISS.

Impossible Object” is a sculpture made of liquid water. Its three-dimensional form does not get its shape from any vessel and as such cannot exist on earth, but only in outer space in the absence of gravity. The sculpture is built as a composition of brass rods and tubes, resembling a wavy staircase with no directionality, through which water flows. With no gravity to direct it downwards, the water adheres to the sculpture’s metal structure, forming a dynamic three-dimensional liquid composition.

The work questions shape and form: In the absence of gravity, what is the shape of a piece of sea or a handful of wave? As space tourism becomes tangible, and no longer focuses solely on technological and scientific goals, Segal and Dr. Meroz reflect on the place of culture and art in our lives, on earth and beyond.

The outcome of this first-of-its-kind artistic experiment in outer space surprised even its creators. Segal and Dr. Meroz had speculated that the water would enfold the sculpture and that the liquid’s shape would echo the structure’s wavy form. In practice, the water formed a few large spheres  gently attached to the sculpture, with their shape and motion affected by the underlying structure. Moreover, the large drops acted as lenses, encasing reflections from the Space Station’s surroundings. Multiple parameters influence these behaviors, some depending on physical properties and others on activation in space. In this sense, accepting the loss of control, and the passion for unveiling the unknown, are an inherent part of the artwork.

The collaborators first met during their MSc studies at TAU, but their life trajectories diverged when Dr. Meroz chose to pursue an academic career as a researcher, while Segal’s path shifted to fine arts. Years later, they were reunited when TAU’s Genia Schreiber University Art Gallery commissioned their first joint artwork, “Tropism.” Today they are both fervent advocates for art-science collaborations.

“Impossible Object” was supported by Mifal Hapais, Asylum Arts, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program (GrowBot), and TAU’s own George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences.