Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 10:15 UK

Painter prepares for art in space

By Nadia Dahabiyeh
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Nasser Azam
Azam is the Artist-in-Residence at London's County Hall

UK artist Nasser Azam is preparing to go boldly where few artists have gone before, by heading into zero gravity for his latest project, Life in Space.

On Tuesday morning, weather permitting, the painter will lead a team of five artists as they fly 23,000 feet into the air to create art inspired by the feeling of total weightlessness.

Heavily influenced by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch Azam's work is primarily concerned with how bodies can be represented in different states of motion and tension.

"I have always been interested in exploring the boundaries of art and of exploring the connectivity of science and art, so this is a perfect forum for us to be able to explore that" he says.

Big butterflies

The flight, in a specially modified plane, will take a series of dramatic climbs and dives, allowing the team to experience short bursts of zero gravity.

Parabolic flight after Esa schematic

The 44-year-old, who recently stepped down as Chief Operating Officer at Merrill Lynch, says: "I'm reluctant to read up on it. All I know is that everyone of your internal organs float which is what makes you feel weezy."

It is therefore unlikely to reassure the Artist-in-Residence at London's County Hall that the planes used for parabolic flights are commonly referred to as "vomit comets".

"I think it is a tremendous opportunity to push the boundaries of my practice to the limit," Azam says, while humorously admitting: "I am getting nervous, I think my butterflies are bigger than me now."

Designer space-suit

The artist and his team are currently at the Russian cosmonaut facility Star City, north-east of Moscow, undergoing intensive training for their trip.

While in zero gravity Azam will complete two large triptychs he has been preparing in his north London studio, called Homage to Francis Bacon.

Nasser Azam painting
Each one of the six paintings will be 160x120cm

Azam says of the 20th century painter: "Bacon is a very topical artist. His vision of human existence as a naked power struggle is as relevant today as it has been over the last 50 years."

"Historically there has been tension between religion and science and this is a collaboration between art and science," he adds.

The artist has had to overcome some problems - despite beginning the pieces with acrylic they will be finished with oil pastels because acrylic would have floated in the air.

But no matter how the experiment turns out, Azam already has one achievement to be proud of - the grey leather jump suit he will be wearing is designed by Alexander McQueen.

"I will probably be the trendiest spaceman ever," he remarks.

The other four artists involved in the project are Lyn Hagan, Stelarc, Luke Jerram and Nin Brudermann. They are due to take off at 0600 BST (0500 GMT) on Tuesday, 8 July.

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