This scroll depicts a scene that spans a history from WWII to the present, from the most destructive attempts on human life to humanity’s greatest endeavor— the moon landing. It is a scene that depicts how highly contingent technology is on desire and the ambivalence we ought to have towards it. The scroll’s 4 meter long drawing consists exclusively of a rubbing of the world’s first hyper-sonic wind tunnels. Ahmed discovered it at the NATO-von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics (VKI), one of Europe’s oldest and largest aeronautics research facilities with whom he has maintained a long-time collaboration.
Rubbing is used in archeology to document architectural remains that cannot be transported. Similarly, nothing can be removed from the VKI for reasons of espionage and security. The rubbing allows the otherwise hidden to be seen. It turns the wind tunnel into an anachronism so we can see it and its operational context in a new way. The circular elements are the test section windows beyond which speeds 5 to 8 times faster than that of sound can be observed, while you stand still. Like an inflated balloon being released, a large volume of air is pushed past the narrow opening of the wedge shape forcing it to accelerate.
The wind tunnel originates from the once-top secret Nazi research facility located in Baltic-coast city of Peenemünde, Germany. There the V2 was developed. Effectively the world’s first modern rocket, it was used heavily during the Battle of Britain. After their victory in the war the US and USSR agreed to split the V2 scientists and facilities equally to found their own space programs. The American Operation Paperclip, saw the removal of this wind tunnel to NASA facilities in the US. It contributed to Apollo 11’s successful moon landing. During the post-war period the von Karman Institute was re-founded to integrate advances made by both sides during the war. In 1958 the joint US director Dr. Bob Korkegi and and Dr. Theodor von Karman brought the wind tunnel back to European soil where it was used until the 1980’s for research.
Ahmed often brings the seemingly opposite together in his artwork. In the scene of the scroll we see the destruction of humanity and the promise of humanity spreading to the stars, we see speeds faster than that of sound through a seemingly ancient record, in it past and the future are confused to ask, from what vantage or from when do we stand to we see?