European Space Agency Sponsors “Graffiti Without Gravity” Contest

On a cold day in Holland last week, 12 of the top street artists in Europe took their places in front of a chain link fence. Each artist faced a 2×2-meter canvas, and the possibility of being the first street artist to experience zero gravity. Not actually in space, but the first to experience weightlessness on one of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) parabolic flights—and to create art in that environment.

(Click photo to enlarge)
Image Credit: ESA – G. Porter.

This “friendly competition” was initiated by ESA to engage young, urban artist communities in thinking about space and space exploration. For help connecting to this audience, ESA reached out to The Hague Street Art, a resource for professional street art and graffiti artists. Although they were caught a bit off guard by a phone call from ESA, The Hague Street Art was thrilled to join forces with ESA. Together, they created Graffiti without Gravity.

Spanish street artist Lily Brik works on her canvas art during the Graffiti without Gravity space art competition. (Click photo to enlarge)
Image Credit: ESA – G. Porter.

Ten street artists were invited to participate, each representing a different country, with two additional participants selected from a pool of “wild card” nominees. Some of the artists are self-proclaimed space enthusiasts that have incorporated space themes into their designs for years. Others were simply intrigued by the chance to do something new. All have unique, captivating styles. Equipped with cans of spray paint and just six hours, they transformed their canvases into beautiful, space-inspired works of art.

(Click photo to enlarge)
Image Credit: ESA – G. Porter.

ESA has a history of innovative collaborations designed to engage new audiences. A few years ago, the agency partnered with top fashion schools to envision the future of fashion with high-tech garments, resulting in the fashion show Couture in Orbit. Last February a couple of ESA astronauts joined 20 clubbers in the first zero-G dance party organized by the music festival BigCityBeats World Club Dome. Dance parties aside, ESA regularly hosts art contest for kids and collaborates with professional artists. It’s an intentional priority.

“It is sometimes easy to forget, while caught up in the daily duties of science and engineering, that ESA’s work in space also tackles questions that spark curiosity at a deeper and fundamentally human level,” explains ESA’s “ESA and Art” page. “These questions concern the very essence of our existence on this planet – not merely as individuals but as part of a cosmic tale that started aeons before us and that will continue long after we are gone.”

In an interview with ESA’s Massimo Sabbatini, Shane Sutton—a wildcard participant in Graffiti without Gravity whose work often depicts astronauts—described his artistic narrative as that space in between. He explained, “That space in between, which is after you leave somewhere but before you get there. So you make a choice and somewhere in the middle you’re in that choice. And space [is] the perfect kind of narrative for that story.”

In some ways, that’s where all of us are right now—in that space between the beginning and end of the universe, between what we used to know and what is possible to know. Some of us try to find meaning in that space with orbital calculations, and others with spray paint cans, but in the end, we’re all just trying to make sense of life on spaceship Earth.

So, which lucky artist gets to ride on the “vomit comet“? That’s up to you! A panel of judges representing the street art and space communities chose their favorites on the day of the competition, but a public vote is weighted just as heavily. Photos of the canvases are on Instagram for voting until June 1, so go vote!

—Kendra Redmond

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