Artists David Haines and Joyce Hinterding performed a world-first when they dropped a sound from the edge of space, and recorded its fall back to Earth. The Australian artists are part of an exhibition called Gravity (and Wonder), a collaboration between the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) and Penrith Regional Gallery.

To create the work Haines and Hinterding sent a “soundship” (named Descender 1) into the outer reaches of the atmosphere – about 33,722 metres high, into the stratosphere. On board the small device were kite bows made of thin aluminum tube, with ribbon stretched across them to produce sound as they traveled through the air. “Sometimes they groan like a cello, at other times they sound a bit like a saxophone, and other times they rattle like the sound of a small motor,” says Haines.

Cameras, tracking instruments and experimental slow-scan TV transmitters (“A bit like an electronic fax – still images, basically,” says Haines.) were attached to a helium balloon and used to document the sound and the journey up, and back down. 

The work takes the form of a dual-screen video projection showing the flight up and the spectacular descent back to Earth. “This work was a great adventure and logistically complex to achieve, but worth the effort. We also now think about how the stratosphere is a viable platform for other kinds of art experiments, and we hope to do more launches in the future.”

Gravity (and Wonder) draws together art and science by featuring artists who work somewhere between the two disciplines.

Also included in the exhibition is a video piece by Japanese artist Hiraki Sawa. Called Dwelling, Sawa’s video work shows tiny planes taxiing and taking off in the artist’s apartment. The idea behind it is to “create an ambiguous border between the outer and inner world”, the artist explains. “Sometimes scientific fact is more fantastical than our artistic imagination. We’ve got a ticket to travel in-between those two places.”

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Gravity (and Wonder) will be showing at Penrith Regional Gallery from September 3 to November 27.

The exhibition also features an interactive artists-in-residence and scientists-in-residence program, a symposium, and stargazing evenings.