Joseph Kennedy

Joseph Kennedy

Orbiting is a cooperation between artist Thom Kubli and Prof. Hiroshi Ishii, featuring the Tangible Media group. It is a novel approach to pool scientific and artistic processes and to challenge physical realities while entangling with the virtual world.

Original Concept

Orbiting features floating, machine-generated sculptures. The 3-D-printed objects — made from an ultra-light material — are injected with helium and released into the air as they become buoyant. As the ascending sculptures rise toward the ceiling, they enter the flow of a thermal stream and begin their gentle orbit. While floating, these ethereal objects participate in a continuously changing series of celestial movements.

The objects are printed in the shape of spaceships, satellites, and smartphones, as well as modernist architecture, contemporary sculpture, and all manner of material culture. Their orbital path may reference space-age imagery from the public imagination (i.e., space debris and flight). Still, their very thingness is simultaneously a nod toward the early modern Wunderkammern and natural oddities found within them.

Research Platform

Orbiting sparked various interdisciplinary research endeavors and intended to inspire dialogue about the issues at hand. Due to the task of inventing a new class of floating objects, so-called Floatables, research cooperations in materials science, architecture, and software design were established. The investigations comprised superlight materials and building principles, such as the construction objects made from Aerogel

Further, the project inspired research in the field of intelligent machine design. As a result, the Orbiting rotational molder was produced describing a speculative machine. The process opened the scope towards thinking machines as a hybrid — partly made of physical materials, partly made of VR- and AR-environments. Thus, it augments the stage for the intuitive exploration of future machine concepts.

The Orbiting research is hosted by MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group and CAST/ Center for Art, Science & Technology. It received kind support from MIT Mediated Matter Group, MIT Material Science and Engineering, MIT Mechanical Engineering, MIT Architecture Department, MIT Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and the MIT Space Exploration Initiative. Further, the research is supported by the Institute of Thermal Separation Processes/TUHH Hamburg and Aerogel Technologies, Boston. 


Thom Kubli


  • Artistic Concept: Thom Kubli
  • Scientific Lead:  Professor Hiroshi Ishii
  • Machine Design:  Kyung Yun Choi, Joseph Kennedy, and Hila Mor
  • Materials Research: Joshua Jordan Van Zak, Benjamin Miller, Valentina Sumini, Michael Tarkanian, Mason Juday, Brandyn Callahan, and Phirak Suon
  • Project Research: Alexandre Mballa-Ekobena, William McKenna, and Joao Henrique Wilbert
  • Cinematography: Joseph Kennedy, James Day, Jonathan Williams, Paula Aguilera
  • Orbiting Animation: Martin Sulzer
  • TMG Program Support: Deema Qashat
  • CAST Producer: Katherine Higgins
  • MIT Communications Team: Heidi Erickson, Leah Talatinian, Janine Liberty, and Harry Bachrach
  • Special thanks to the MIT advisors and contributors to this project including Jeffrey Hoffman, Lorna Gibson, Krystyn Van Vliet, Skylar Tibbits, and Leila Kinney, Stacy DeBartolo, and Lydia Brosnahan.
  • Supported by MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology