Louise K Wilson «Terra Firma» 1996.

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Terra Firma is one in a series of installations for which Louise K Wilson gathered scientific data and documentation of her participation in a research project: «In late 1994 living in Montreal I took part in a week-long motion sickness study in the Aerospace Medical Research Unit of McGill University.» This ongoing study «explores the adaptation of the human body for manned space flight.»

Wilson volunteered to undertake a series of movements in the laboratory where sometimes volunteers may be spun around in a mechanised chair in order that the inertia barrier might be broken. My «eye, head and body movements were electronically monitored with electrodes during the prescribed ‘provocative, self-generated movements’ intended to provoke nausea.» Her neck was placed in a brace so that «the effect of complete neck immobilization on gaze control» could be observed. At the end, Wilson was «allowed a copy of the grainy black and white video footage» made of herself, which she was to use as a focal point of Terra Firma.


J.G. Ballard perceives the state of humans in weightlessness as «a forced return to infantile dependency, primitive stages in the growth of our nervous systems before the development of our sense of balance and upright posture.» Nausea, or motion sickness, is a nasty by-product.

McGill University finally had their studies performed in the destined zero gravity environment, when in the summer of 1996 the crew on the space shuttle Columbia, on mission STS-78 from Kennedy Space Center, performed the Torso Rotation Experiment. Measurements were made of «how the vestibular apparatus or inner ear adapts to the weightless environment» by monitoring «eye, head and torso movements of flight crew members during normal on-orbit activities for evidence of egocentric motor strategies, concentration on a body frame of reference rather than the external world.» For her installation, Wilson obtained the STS-78 post-flight presentation video from NASA/JSC Media Services Corporation.

Terra Firma was «made for the centre sculpture court of the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, as part of ROOT 96.» It is composed of a free-standing wooden staircase, three television sets, headphones, videos, sound recordings, written documents and involved visitors. An earlier version of Terra Firma was shown at Optica Gallery Montreal, Canada, February 1996.

sources: spacearts.info, proboscis.org.uk [pdf]