by CANDACE WETMORE
Suspended high above the viewer, Michael Chow’s Moon twists and turns with cosmic precision showcasing a fantastic array of science, technology and spectacle. Incredibly poetic, the silent force of the expansive disc combines state-of-the-art technology from LED lights to gently moving yacht wires all constructed from Chow’s original design in tandem with leading TAIT Towers design architects. Built as an edition of three with two artist’s proofs, Moon features as the main event at Mr. Chow’s at the Caesar Palace in Las Vegas, strategically placed in the center of the dining room in delights diners with unending visual pleasure. Inspired by his own vision in design, classic forms of space travel and an intense preoccupation in the contemporary technology, Moon celebrates the pantheon of artists —from Leonardo da Vinci to Robert Smithson and James Turrell — who strove to bridge the gap between science and art, while also paying homage to the otherworldly, now classic pulp icon, the flying saucer.
Emerging as an early-twentieth century paradigm of the role science and new technology can play with art, Chow’s Moon continues a rich lineage of artist’s who strove to merge systematic progress and the more imprudent ambitions of drawing, painting and sculpture. “We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed,” declared F.T. Marinetti in the Futurist Manifesto of 1909. “A roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.” While the Italian Futurists had laid the foundation for a new exploration between art and the up rise in the industrial city, the Russian Constructivists championed an art form that utilized modern materials such as iron and glass, to envision artistic forms that employed kinetic movement and utilitarian intentions paving the way for a universal exploration of the possibilities to integrate the ever evolving way of life into art. “We refuse to think of science and art as two distinct phenomena…” Italian Spatialist championed for his almost prophetic paintings alluding to the realm of space travel, Lucio Fontana asserted on the eve of the international Space Race. “Artists anticipate scientific deeds, scientific deeds always provoke artistic deeds.”
For over half century, the image of the flying saucer has exerted a powerful grip over popular imagination. While disc-shaped objects have been reported hunting the heavens throughout history—even to the extent that unexplained carvings resembling flying saucers have been uncovered in the temples of Ancient Egypt—this commonly citied UFO can essentially be dated back to mid-twentieth century, when on June 24, 1947 pilot Kenneth Arnold reported passing nine shiny unidentified flying objects in the skies around Mount Rainier in Washington state. Nostalgically recalling the Eisenhower-Kennedy era’s optimistic vision for tomorrow, from a time when Cold War paranoia was tempered by widespread faith in technology, progress and economic growth, the now iconic symbol of the flying saucer, which flooded 1950s comic books and B-movies, became a visual shorthand for the gleaming, jet-propelled postwar vision of the future. Fast forward fifty years, to the reality of yesterday’s notion of “tomorrow,” void of jetpacks and flying cars, Chow’s elegantly romantic moving sculpture strays away from the tired clichéd visions of the future, and through the implementation of state-of-the-art technology injects new life into this space age fantasy.
And yet, Moon also inhabits a more biographical role in the artist’s life. The son of national treasure and legendary Peking Opera Grand Master, Zhou Xingfang, Chow has described his work not as a homage to his father, but rather as his father, marking importance of Chinese culture in Chow’s work. Certainly, the moon has played a leading role in Chinese civilization since ancient times. Celebrated since the Shang Dynasty (c.16th - 10th century BCE), the Mid-Autumn or Moon Festival celebrated the full moon and the well-known lunar deity, Chang’e—known as the Moon Goddess of Immortality. The moon has played a central role in the arts as well. Legend even describes that the immortal poet of Chinese literary history from the Tang Dynasty, Li Bai, drowned after falling from his boat when he tried to embrace the reflection of the moon in the Yangtze River. These mythos and traditions remain a powerful part of Chinese culture today. So much so that not only has the Chinese space program started naming their lunar probes after the Goddess of the Moon, but in 1969, shortly before the Apollo 11 landed on the moon’s surface a Houston flight control officer warned Command Module Pilot, Michael Collins of a beautiful Chinese girl named Chang’e who has been living on the moon for over 4,000 years.
Spanning twenty-six feet in diameter and weighing in at a remarkable 3,800 pounds, Chow’s kinetic sculpture is composed of six pieces, with the silent motion of the three largest petals taking center stage. Employing TAIT Towers as the vehicle for the fabrication of Chow’s original design, the masterminds of kinetic architecture—known for staging elaborate and highly advanced live performances and moving sculptures across all artistic genres—utilized state of the art materials technology to construct the twenty-six fiberglass moon disc.
Indeed, the practice of pairing artist and engineer has become a long revered tradition in the field of contemporary art beginning in 1966 when artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman and engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer founded Experiments in Art and Technology, officially known as E.A.T., a non-profit organization that served as a catalyst for hundreds artistic collaborations between artists and engineers. A research engineer with Bell Laboratories, Klüver brought significant experience to the crossover world of art and technology: lending the technical know-how to Jean Tinguely’s self-destructing machine, Homage to New York, as well as providing the heat-sealing Mylar used in Andy Warhol’s helium-filled Silver Clouds. While several artists, such as Jeff Koons whose elaborate studio system is buzzing with technicians, have adopted a hybrid studio method combining art and new mechanized system of production, collaborations between artist and engineer continue to reinvigorate sculpture with previously unimagined possibilities.