01: Vessel   02: Burning   03: Foil
Condensing Clouds: Tales held by the sky and how to break our intentions of control, Emilia Escobar
June 2023

Eloise Maltby Maland, Condensing Clouds, 2020–ongoing, Detail (view through the artefacts). Courtesy of the artist.

The race to break “firsts” records drove two private enterprises to send a spacecraft ten days within each other in July of 2021 together with their respective founders. Richard Branson, aka Astronaut 001, the founder of Virgin Galactic was aboard the VSS Unity, and was first to launch on July 11.1 On July 20, Jeff Bezos took flight on New Shepard, the spacecraft of Blue Origin, an enterprise he founded in 2000.2 Who won and actually holds the record can be debated, as only Bezos crossed the Fédération aéronautique International (FAI)-defined Kármán Line, or the proposed atmospheric line that marks the beginning of outer space. To cross this imaginary line and conquer the last border asserting the dominance of mankind is prevalent, even fifty years after a flag was placed on the Moon.

Condensing Clouds (2020-ongoing) by Eloise Maltby Maland breaks a unilateral relationship to the sky we believe to hold. Following from her work Lunar Perspective (2018-20), Condensing Clouds departs from the man-made boundary between down and up, us and the sky by using the clouds as bodies that hold and transfer human narratives of our ecosystem. Lunar Perspective was a research, performance, video, book, and website focused on Lunar House, an office block of the Home Office in London, essentially working as a border inside the city. The work explores different mediums of control such as cartographies, borders, and othering through language and mapping. Within these themes, the name of the building is significant, as it was established in celebration of the moon landing a year before the building’s completion.3
Stemming from these forms of control to ecosystems and our spaces, Condensing Clouds is a work that is collaborative, archival, sculptural, and text-based. Maltby Maland’s piece is activated through small events which – through different mediums – stir our own connections and understandings of the sky.

Eloise Maltby Maland, Condensing Clouds, 2020–ongoing, Detail (annotated book). Courtesy of the author.

On December 12, 2021 (the same year the private space race was on) a group gathered in Greenwich Observatory, London. The participants received a book written by Maltby Maland. Each page was written in different forms and with various topics. It ranged from a list of inventions created in the Observatory to map the sky, names of the men who attempted to catalogue the skies, to a historical account of a voyage that ended in a violent colonial takeover. It is a flow of connections through origin tales, language, constructions of meaning, and control. The group moved through these moments and their own recollections, joined by Maltby Maland and her annotated book.

Through this process, the group was able to expand and complement the Greenwich sky. As clouds condense, ever-changing, impossible to grasp in one moment, each droplet moving in and out of its composition, the stories are the same. The book written by Maltby Maland functioned in the same manner: the narratives chosen by her are limited in limitless possibilities, held in a specific composition and reflected that the meaning ascribed to our environment is dependent on the set of tales assembled.

Eloise Maltby Maland, Condensing Clouds, 2020–ongoing, El Bruc, Catalonia. Courtesy of the artist.

The second gathering took place in El Bruc, Catalonia. This time, Maltby Maland sculpted artefacts from the grounds of El Bruc. She dug the soil, extracted clay, moulded it, and fired the objects during her time there. These artefacts are small clay objects, with a hole made to look through and a drawing on its surface that represents different sky etymologies, which activated the sharing of the sky meanings. Maltby Maland, accompanied by a book only for her use with annotations of each etymology represented in the objects, took the role of a reader and led a journey with the group through the different meanings given to the sky. Each approach revealed ingrained ways of seeing, including some that challenge or open our personal understandings. By seeing deeply and intently with the aid of the artefacts and going through each etymology, the experience may disrupt our own understandings of the sky – like as I encountered with the words    

kishka: gut (Russian) – the sky as something elemental, that comes from inside of us and is processing

skyria: eyebrows (Greek) – the sky as protector and, as the eye; looking out even more to make sense

cutis: skin (Latin) – the sky as something intimate, covering, protecting us softly

The specificity of each gathering’s place and time is not limiting as it highlights the transfer of stories across geographies and generations through the clouds and the sky. These narratives, even if specific to a particular site, accompany the participants regardless of where they go afterwards. At the same time, the stories that have shaped our personal cosmogony are shared where and when we chose to. As we create and place the narratives in the sky, the sky holds them and feeds them again – in different spaces and times – much like the etymology from the Gothic skuggwa (mirror) suggests. Moreover, they highlight the set of meanings our ecosystems transferred down within specific societal contexts.

Through this transportation across time and place, the means of control through mapping, cataloguing, and bordering are broken. Containment proves to be an unfeasible task. By this, Maltby Maland with Condensing Clouds continues to question the limit of control of human bodies, ecosystems, and spaces. 

Emilia Escobar is a researcher born in Colombia, currently based in London. Her research focuseson the underlying currents shaping our contemporary contexts by exploring materiality andecosystems exchanges through time and geographies. Previously she has worked around culturalinstitutions’ policies role in shaping art canons and public ideologies. She recently completed her MA in Situated Practice in The Bartlett, UCL. She was part SAVVY Contemporary’s Spinning Triangles programme (Berlin, 2019) and Ficha Técnica research group (Bogotá). In Colombia, she has participated in exhibition projects in galleries and independent proposals, and research ofprivate collections’ archives for catalogue and exhibition.

¹ Chelsea Gohd, “Virgin Galactic launches Richard Branson to space in 1st fully crewed flight of VSS Unity,” Space, July 11, 2021, last accessed May 28, 2023 https://www.space.com/virgin-galactic-unity-22-branson-flight-success

² Gradatim Ferociter, “The very first seat on New Shepard sells for $28 million,” Blue Origin, June 12, 2021, last accessed May 28, 2023 https://www.blueorigin.com/news/the-very-first-seat-on-new-shepard-sells-for-28-million

³ Eloise Maltby Maland, “A Lunar Perspective,” last accessed May 11, 2023 https://eloisemaltbymaland.com/A-Lunar-Perspective-about