Lunacy: between illusion and reality

Moon travel appeals to the imagination. As from time immemorial we are staring at this illuminated ball between the stars and we are building rockets that can take us there. Photographer Sjoerd Knibbeler made vehicles with which people wanted to travel to the moon and told about it in his artist talk in MotMot.

The vehicles that inspired Knibbeler are not necessarily rockets that have also reached the moon. Knibbeler was inspired by reality and fiction. Through stories, films and photos. Like the science fiction film ‘Frau im Mond’ from 1929 by Fritz Lang. Or the sketch of the first rocket on liquid fuel from Robert Goddard. But also images of Luna1; the first satellite that was sent by the Russians to the moon. The satellite would take measurements during its flight and then crash on the moon. In practice this turned out a bit different. The Russians shot 5,000 km next to the moon, causing the Luna1 to miss its final destination and surviving its mission. The satellite is until this day still in orbit around the sun.

By using these ‘source-stories’ Knibbeler mixes reality and fiction in his rocket designs, which formed the basis for his series ‘Lunacy’. He built the first rocket model on a relatively large scale. “The first was over a meter and a half. In the beginning of a project, you do not really know what you are doing. Your methodology develops during the process. Pitfalls provide an increasingly better approach “. The first model turned out to be quite unmanageable and too big to carry. The rocket models that followed were around 50 cm. All made from wood: mdf to be precise.

Once per month – at full moon – Knibbeler took them to a dark spot in the Northeast Polder where he photographed them. Sometimes a number of them on one night. In this way he returned the rockets to the place they were inspired by: the moon and the moonlight. He photographed his rockets on a 4×5  camera. With an exposure time of half an hour he was handed over to the weather gods. “You are photographing in the dark so your shutter has to be open for a long time.” The surface on which the rocket was sett for its portrait is sawdust. “I make everything from wood, so to create moon dust I use the sawdust I get from sawing the models. That is recycled and I use that as a substrate for the set.”

Knibbeler wants to create an illusion with his work. He lets the viewer balance between the impression of a real moon rocket and the reality of the scale model. Threads that you see in the photograph to which his rocket model hangs, are purposely not removed in photoshop. His creative process is aimed at searching for the stories, building the model, looking for the optimal conditions and making the photo. Increasing the illusion with post-processing is not part of this. That the illusion is of great importance is evident from the fact that the scale models are not part of the exhibition. ‘The scale model refers to the idea, but the photographs are the actual work.’


Sjoerd Knibbeler his work ‘Lunacy’ can be seen in Breda Botanique until October 21st.