Throughout human history, we have only been able to explore space in the last few decades. But long before we launched satellites out of the atmosphere, artists had imagined about humans who had fled from planet Earth to heaven.
The budgets of military defense institutions and science encourage exploration, but it is artists who become instrumental catalysts of human adventures conquering the middle of nowhere, because they imagine the future long before it materializes – as the saying goes, life mimics works of art.
Now artists join in the actual exploration, imagining mysterious vacuum spaces above the atmosphere, which seem to be museums or art galleries.
Artists known as Nahum reject the idea that space is a place that must be controlled by humans. He argued that artists must be involved in discussions about how we explore space. If not, humanity – more precisely referring to rich countries with large funding for outside projects – risks risking the same mistakes as the history of colonialism in the past.
Who controls the surface of the Moon or comet and has the right to exploit precious minerals and metals there? The fundamental aspects of our culture, such as land ownership and territorial boundaries, are questioned again after we leave Earth, he said. “If [artists] have different skills and views about the world, we can enrich the conversation,” he added to BBC Culture.
Artists, for the first time since scientists found a solution to fight gravity and break through Earth’s atmosphere, began to imagine space as an art platform.
What is art outside Earth like? On June 29, 2018, the result of years of work, Nahum’s dream came true when he launched the only interactive sculpture into orbit. Rides a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that glides towards the International Space Station (ISS).
On Earth, Nahum creates various performances that allow visitors to interact with the statue on the ISS. “This is to bring people on Earth ‘closer’ into space,” Nahum said.
Is space a place for art?
Space should be a cultural laboratory, Nahum said, so this new project was intentionally designed to be related to interactions with space. By interacting with sculptures on the ISS, viewers on Earth will feel as if space is more accessible.
This project is about the interconnectivity of all things, on a cosmic scale but also here on Earth; interpretation of ‘things we don’t know’ – as part of what is invisible but cannot be denied is part of human existence. “Sometimes I feel outer space is a black canvas,” Nahum said.
Other artists like Trevor Paglen, Tavares Strachan and Makoto Azuma also compiled projects specifically for space.
On December 3, 2018 Paglen’s Orbital Reflector, in collaboration with the Nevada Art Museum, and Strachan’s Enoch, and the Los Angeles Art Museum (LACMA) was launched into space after being canceled several times. The two works are riding the same SpaceX rocket.
At first, the Paglen statue might look like a scientific satellite, but it was actually pure aesthetics and aspirations.
The project sparked protests among astronomers who claimed that highly reflective objects would obstruct scientific observations. Nahum denied their claims, instead the project was the first to question the question of who has the right to space or who has Earth’s orbit. Why should scientists have unlimited control? Why do artists, or other people in this case, not have equal access to this new area?
The Strachan space statue is more similar to the statues you find in the museum – the statue of Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., the first African-American chosen for the US space program. Lawrence died in a plane crash while still in training to become an astronaut and never reached his dream of going into space. But the Strachan statue seems to make it happen.
The launch of the space sculpture Nahum, Paglen and Strachan marks a turning point for works of art in space, with three works by three artists orbiting around our current planet.
Paglen said that he designed space sculptures to encourage us (who are bound by gravity on Earth) to see with fresh curiosity. “What I like about exploration of space is that most of it is about (the interests of) Earth,” Nahum said.
In other words, these projects, although extra-terrestrial, are intended to unite us. Almost every satellite ever leads to Earth. In fact, the first camera launched into space did not take photos of stars, but Earth.
The concept of migration and nationalism is destroyed when we imagine a future where we will only say, “I am from Earth,” Nahum said. Beyond science or even science fiction, art can provoke new ways to look out into the sky and also into our collective consciousness.