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ESCAPING GRAVITY Will Premiere at The Higgins Bedford in July

Commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts, Escaping Gravity is a large-scale cinematic video installation with accompanying symphony.

ESCAPING GRAVITY Will Premiere at The Higgins Bedford in July

Mike Stubbs is an observer of the idiosyncratic compulsions of British culture. His work often references the experiences of his youth in Bedford, from car culture and Santa Pod to flying days at Shuttleworth and the surrounding engineering and innovation plants of Bedfordshire.

Escaping Gravity, Stubbs first new major commission since returning to his artistic practice, goes beyond his own experiences to airships and the human desire for progress, adventure and the unknown.

Commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts, Escaping Gravity is a large-scale cinematic video installation with accompanying symphony created with a creative team. It has been created in response to Bedford's identity as the historical centre of the U.K.'s airship industry, past and present. In making this work, Stubbs has been inspired by the scale, excitement and mystery of airship engineering, innovation and ultimate failure.

The work interrogates the tension that existed between the optimism of pioneering endeavour and the consequences of hubris, ambition and folly behind the Imperial Airship Scheme of the 1920s, as a reflection on our contemporary political and cultural landscape.

Directing and curating the filmmaking and sound, Stubbs has produced a multi-layered metaphor for these ideas working in collaboration with new media artists Roger Illingworth, Roland Denning, Dave Lynch, Rob Strachan and Sam Weihl. The story arc evokes the journey of the R101 from the moment the giant shed doors open to its ultimate crash, imbued with the themes of birth, death and rebirth echoing the lifecycle of the airship.

The film has been created in Unreal Engine, the gaming software that Fortnite is built on with the video projection filling one wall of the gallery. Illingworth and Strachan have created a symphony with choral voices combining with sounds reminiscent of airship engines and wind, conveying the mythical and meditative journey.

Mike Stubbs artist said: "I want to ask - what is it to go beyond gravity - not tangibly, like space travel - but to escape gravity in our minds? When you think about Elon Musk, robotics, AI, in terms of the conflict between what innovation can lead to, and a route out of chaos and destruction, I'm still excited by that promise. I have this inherent hope that technology will save us, from the climate emergency, for example. However, at the same time, I feel very conflicted. We have to look hard at our relationship with nature. In making the work this tension was always there for us and slowly it becomes more about escaping into other worlds, beyond gravity. Escaping dystopia. But it's not dystopian. It's critical. I want people to see the work and ask questions."

In the 1920s the airship was considered the future of aviation and Bedford's role as the UK's global airship hub seemed certain. After the R101 crash on 5 October 1930, although there were other airships that were constructed and flew at Cardington including the visit of the Bournemouth in 1951, the Goodyear Europa airship in 1972 and the Airship Industries Skyships of the 1980s and 90s, this didn't materialise. Most recently a new company based in Bedford, Hybrid Air Vehicles has designed a new air vehicle, the Airlander, with a vision to make Airlander the future of air travel.

Escaping Gravity is commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts in partnership with the Higgins Bedford and the Airship Heritage Trust.

In addition to Mike Stubbs' artwork, in the Higgins Connections Gallery, visitors can also explore the community-curated archive of airship artefacts and memorabilia, with many items donated by airship enthusiasts from the local community and around the world.

Project website:
Exhibition dates: Sat 10 July - Sun 28 November 2021
Exhibition venue: The Higgins Bedford, Castle Lane, MK40 3XD
Duration: approx. 40 minutes

Photo Credit: Jamie Bubb

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