The Student
Julijonas Urbonas, Planet of the People

The Lithuanian artist Julijonas Urbonas is no stranger to controversial art projects. In 2010 he created the now notorious Euthanasia Coaster, a hypothetical roller coaster that was designed to deliberately kill its passengers. The single-seated roller coaster that he conceives of initiates with a vertiginous 500 metre climb, intended to allow the recipient to contemplate their decision to end their life. Once they reach the top, they press a button to proceed, sending them on an enormous 500m drop followed by a series of spirals. The strength of the G-force is intended to cut off oxygen to the brain. Urbonas combines paradoxes of euphoria and pleasure with the element of asphyxiation and death in order to provide an alternative to the sombre death produced by the medical euthanasia process. He is an artist who is fascinated with the idea of mortality and uses his works to express this issue.

The Planet of the People exhibition in the City Dome Observatory on Calton Hill from the 29th of February to the 8th of May is one of the latest installations in Urbonas’ exploration of mortality. This venue once housed a large astronomical telescope and is now purposed as an exhibition space following a renovation that was completed in 2018. 

On entry into the Dome, the participatory component of the installation is made immediately clear as the visitor is met with six 3D scanner at ground level. The visitor can choose to have their body scanned and in doing so, can see their image projected onto the domed ceiling along with multiple other figures that have visited before. The images appear to float around the ceiling, strangely meeting together in the centre to form a ‘human planet’. The exhibition considers notions of space, gravity, ecology and most importantly the ephemerality of humans on earth and permanence of the digital image.

While an interesting but unusual experience, it is exciting to see how technology and science can be combined with art to provide an interactive installation on top of one of the best beauty spots in Edinburgh.

Intended exhibition run: 29 February 2020 -1 May 2020 (pre-lockdown).

Image: Chiara Howard-Sneyd.