There was a time when videos weren’t viral, a time when videos didn’t even exist.

In that time, embracing the risk of public failure during a bizarre, exceptional act was not aimed at gaining social media gratification. And, of course, actions were not primarily driven by the need of wowing or shocking an audience.

In the past there were many reasons that inspired men to perform heroic, visionary feats. In that time, religion, science, culture, politics, art and love moved men to go beyond the boundaries of practical impossibility and dogmatic certitudes, triggering innovation through experimentation.  

From a positivist perspective, the purest aim of technology is to fulfil the needs of the species, in order to produce an upgrade in terms of living quality. Recalling numerous examples, such as the prehistoric use of fire, the invention of the wheel, Gutenberg’s printing press and so on, but historically, technology also dealt with utopian desires and myths. The “magical use” of technology allowed men to investigate physical and cognitive limits without necessarily improving anything, but just as a response to the most unreal and maybe futile aspirations. On an empirical basis, men tried to extend their thought to the most unattainable inventions, creating an optimistic scenario in which everything was possible, at least conceivable, by drawing on a body of knowledge influenced by both scientific and intuitive observation. Above others, intuition was possibly the fundamental component that accelerated the development of a collectively accepted scientific method.

This kind of naïve, dreamy application of technology finds its quintessential image in an historical device, fascinating for its technical and intellectual ambition: the flying machine.

Flying machines were different from parachutes, balloons or dirigibles, because of their human-based design. In fact they were supposed to endow men with technical devices that allowed them to fly without the use of external constructions. Through removable structures such as wooden wings or feathered canopies, men temporarily modified their bodies, transforming their natural characteristics. It is evident, however, that many of these inventions, although ingenious, faced the impossibility of ever being practicable.

In her work Machine for Flying Besnier (2016), Tania Candiani recreates a prototype of an ancient flying machine, using it in a zero gravity room. A French locksmith named Besnier conceived of the machine in 1678 as a wooden apparatus consisting of two wings to be placed over the shoulders, and tied by ropes to the pilot’s feet.

Through the use of quite a recent innovation such as the anti-gravitational machine, the artist creates a link between early, amateurish attempts at flying technology, and modern aerospace techniques. In doing so, Candiani’s video presents a documentation of the use of obsolete devices as a way to research the poetry behind technology, that emotional impetus that led men to ingenuously investigate complex subjects such as gravitational physics and aerospace engineering.

Nowadays, these machines appear as rudimentary objects inexpertly conceived without the guide of scientific rigor, but they do, however, create a sense of romantic nostalgia by which Candiani’s work is essentially characterized.

Machine for Flying Besnier demonstrates how the cycle of technology is rapidly exhausted, in that the obsolescence of technological devices continuously generates new tools to replace previous discoveries.

No Such Thing As Gravity is open until 5 February 2017 at FACT.