Orbiting Hiroshi Ishii, Thom Kubli, Kyung Yun Choi, Joseph Kennedy, Joshua Jordan Van Zak, Benjamin Miller, Valentina Sumini, Michael Tarkanian, Mason Juday, Brandyn Callahan, and Phirak Suon, Alexandre Mballa-Ekobena, William McKenna, and Joao Henrique Wilbert

Orbiting is a collaboration between artist Thom Kubli, Prof. Hiroshi Ishii and the Tangible Media Group. It is a novel approach to pool scientific and artistic processes and to challenge physical realities while entangling with the virtual world.
The COVID-19 crisis has invoked a world-wide momentum of revision on how to shape the future. On many planes, it created a state of exception, challenging the gravitational forces in politics, society, and culture. Orbiting applies the perspective of Zero-G as a conceptual focal point. Proactively embracing these dynamics, the work faces the question: How do we design the erosion process of gravitational forces? Dwelling in weightlessness exposes a most exceptional conditio humana. It might as well provide insight on how to transform a situation characterized by limited resources and multidirectional drift into a new choreography — one that stands for equality, interconnectedness, and integrity.
Original Concept
Orbiting features floating, machine-generated sculptures. The 3-D-printed objects — made from an ultra-light material — are injected with helium and released into the air as they become buoyant. As the ascending sculptures rise toward the ceiling, they enter the flow of a thermal stream and begin their gentle orbit. While floating, these ethereal objects participate in a continuously changing series of celestial movements.
The objects are printed in the shape of spaceships, satellites, and smartphones, as well as modernist architecture, contemporary sculpture, and all manner of material culture. Their orbital path may reference space-age imagery from the public imagination (i.e., space debris and flight). Still, their very thingness is simultaneously a nod toward the early modern Wunderkammern and natural oddities found within them.
Research Platform
Orbiting sparked various interdisciplinary research endeavors and is intended to inspire dialogue about the issues at hand. Due to the task of inventing a new class of floating objects, so-called Floatables, research collaboration in materials science, architecture, and software design were established. The investigations comprised superlight materials and building principles, such as the construction objects made from Aerogel.
Further, the project inspired research in the field of intelligent machine design. As a result, the Orbiting rotational molder was produced describing a speculative machine. The process opened the scope towards thinking machines as a hybrid — partly made of physical materials, partly made of VR- and AR-environments. Thus, it augments the stage for the intuitive exploration of future machine concepts.
The Orbiting research is hosted by MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group and CAST/ Center for Art, Science & Technology. It received kind support from MIT Mediated Matter Group, MIT Material Science and Engineering, MIT Mechanical Engineering, MIT Architecture Department, MIT Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and the MIT Space Exploration Initiative. Further, the research is supported by the Institute of Thermal Separation Processes/TUHH Hamburg and Aerogel Technologies, Boston.
Artistic Concept: Thom Kubli
Scientific Lead: Professor Hiroshi Ishii
Machine Design: Kyung Yun Choi, Joseph Kennedy, and Hila Mor
Materials Research: Joshua Jordan Van Zak, Benjamin Miller, Valentina Sumini, Michael Tarkanian, Mason Juday, Brandyn Callahan, and Phirak Suon
Project Research: Alexandre Mballa-Ekobena, William McKenna, and Joao Henrique Wilbert
Cinematography: Joseph Kennedy, James Day, Jonathan Williams, Paula Aguilera
Orbiting Animation: Martin Sulzer
TMG Program Support: Deema Qashat
CAST Producer: Katherine Higgins
MIT Communications Team: Heidi Erickson, Leah Talatinian, Janine Liberty, and Harry Bachrach
Special thanks to the MIT advisors and contributors to this project including Jeffrey Hoffman, Lorna Gibson, Krystyn Van Vliet, Skylar Tibbits, and Leila Kinney, Stacy DeBartolo, and Lydia Brosnahan.
Supported by MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology