Newton sits under a tree, an apple falls on his head: “Oh, gravitation!”

Eve is the only woman on the planet. She picks an apple from the tree to gain knowledge and to become like a god.

A few thousand years span between the two stories. Both tell of a seminal moment. It does not matter if it was really an apple, an orange, or a pear. The stories are not a matter of truth. What matters is what these stories evoke, what we make out of them, how they want to shape our thoughts and feelings, what we create from listening to them.

A student of aeronautical engineering at Rensselaer dreams of flying through the streets of a Middle Eastern bazaar, over the roofs, diving closer to the ground, soaring higher and down again—without rockets or propulsion, just by spreading her arms.

It is a real dream; it is part of reality, in fact more so than watching Superman fly across a screen. We do not have to and actually cannot suspend belief in a dream. Flying, being free, without burden, dreaming, looking at the world from a different angle, crashing and resurrecting are all possible and possibly all at once.

Among the many facets and functions of the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, EMPAC is also a platform for stories and dreams, rough awakenings and fantasy in the context of science and engineering, research and teaching. In this show, EMPAC presents “gravity” from a different perspective than 99% of the time this term is used at an engineering school.

In that light, there are questions that this exhibition may provoke to be answered: Is the metaphorical use of ”gravity” in an artistic work less valid than in a scientific or engineering context? Is one way of looking at what “gravity” might evoke truer or less true than another? Is truth a category in science or the arts? Can we appreciate or even enjoy that someone plays with or transgresses the scientific meaning and creates a new context—a new island in reality?

Our thanks go to all of the artists in the exhibition that inspire questions such as these.


This exhibition has been made possible by the combined dedication and work of countless people. First and foremost I would like to extend our thanks to the curator of this exhibition, Kathleen Forde. The curatorial team at EMPAC has been shaping the identity of EMPAC at the intersection of arts, science and technology for several years now, ramping up to the opening of the new building, attracting outstanding artists and infusing new directions into campus. Kathleen has envisioned this exhibition and created its artistic and intellectual context; she selected the exhibited works and worked with the artists to develop the new commissions for this exhibition. Curating such an exhibition is a highly interdisciplinary research and production project on its own. I would like to thank Kathleen for all the timeless time, thought and energy she has put towards creating this exhibition for us.

Along with the usual complexities of organizing a group show, this project presented a new challenge to the EMPAC team who had not yet dealt with a large-scale exhibition in the public spaces of our new building until this time. I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to all of the EMPAC staff that collaborated beyond their own gravitational forces to make it possible. Unfortunately there are too many here to mention by name but Kathleen and I would like to especially thank Bob Bovard, Director of Stage Technologies; Ian Hamelin, Project Manager; and Eric Ameres, Senior Research Engineer, in particular for being open to this adventure and making new work and new ideas possible at our institution. We would also like to thank Andrew Rarig, Graphic Designer, for the design of the dynamic exhibition catalog. The work of Kevin Duggan, Senior Advancement Officer, Jason Steven Murphy, PR and Marketing Project Manager, and Shannon Johnson, Web Director, has been without compare for their endless contributions to the life of this exhibition beyond our glass walls.

Emily Berçir Zimmerman, EMPAC’s Curatorial Assistant, deserves more kudos than a page can hold for her patience, intelligence, courage and tenaciousness throughout the process of making this show come to life.

Patrick Weber, Senior Preparator/ Assistant Exhibition Designer, Wexner Center for the Arts and Zeyad Dajani who took the time to come from their home institutions and studios to advise at EMPAC on behalf of the artists in the show were brilliant to work with and an incredible asset to the process of the install. I would like to extend many thanks to both of them for their knowledge, mileage, and time.

On behalf of Kathleen, I would also like to thank Peter Trachtenberg and Ruth Keffer for their sage (and frank) editorial input on the catalog text, as well as Shawn Snow, Michael Rasmussen and Ruben Rodriguez for additional technical advisement.

We are especially grateful to Chris Doyle and Thom Kubli, who both created new works for this exhibition. On behalf of Thom Kubli, we would like to thank Andy Vendetti, President of High Tech Flotation, for all of his support and for sharing his unique knowledge of the landscape and history of saltwater tanks.

The lenders of this exhibition were a pleasure to work with. Thank you 303 Gallery, De Soto Gallery, Galerie Zink, James Cohan Gallery, Parker’s Box Gallery, Randall Scott Gallery, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, and The William Forsythe Company for lending your works to this show.

On the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute we are indebted to Ted Krueger, Professor in the School of Architecture, for his continued enthusiasm and efforts to collaborate with EMPAC on an ongoing basis, both personally and in tandem with his students. This show in particular benefited from his eons of expertise with the world of NASA, gravity and the lack thereof.

This exhibition has also been made possible by the uncommon vision and generosity of Amy and David Jaffe ‘64. For them we have so much to thank. For the purpose of this exhibition we applaud them especially for their fund’s—The Jaffe Fund for Experimental Media and Performing Arts—contribution to the new commissions by Chris Doyle and Thom Kubli and for support of the incredible collaboration with the students from the School of Architecture.

Dancing on the Ceiling is an innovative event for EMPAC and one I hope will pave the way for more like-minded moments in the future of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The Honorable Shirley Ann Jackson, 18th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, joins me in expressing our appreciation to everyone that made this possible.

March 2010