Notes about A screaming comes across the sky. Drones, mass surveillance and invisible wars , Laboral's new exhibition that addresses the ethical and legal ambiguity of drones, mass surveillance and war at a distance.
Drones are very much part of today's culture. You can buy one on amazon and fly it as if it were a sophisticated kite. You also probably read how they are (or will be) used to deliver urgent medical supplies, shoot movies, monitor crops, track wildlife or gather information after a natural or manmade disaster.
In many people's minds, hobbyist and civilian uses of UAVs have overtaken the military role and origins of drones. No surprise here as what governments are doing with drones, who they are killing and how is a mystery for the public. And even often for government officials, as this video shown by curator Juha van' t Zelfde during Laboral's drone conference illustrates:
Drones have been operating and killing since the early 2000s. Yet, we still have fairly few or no statistics regarding civilian casualties. The Bureau of Investigative Journalist does a great job at counting strikes and casualties in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Data gets blurry when it comes to attacks in other countries such as Afghanistan. And a lack of transparency goes hand in hand with a lack of accountability. The wars are fought in remote countries by invisible technologies operated in the name of people who have only a very limited knowledge of what is happening 'on the war front' and this situation contrasts with the ability that satellite images have given us to see and explore the world. The irony is illustrated by James Bridle's ongoing series of aerial photographs of military surveillance drones, found via online maps accessible to everyone.
The title A screaming comes across the sky is taken from Thomas Pynchon's novel, Gravity's Rainbow, which explores the social and political context behind the development of the V-2 rocket, the first long-range ballistic missile and the first man-made object to enter the fringes of space. The rocket was developed by the German military during World War II to attack Allied cities as a form of retaliation for the ever-increasing Allied bombings against German cities. Today's technologies of war, such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones, and their laser-guided Hellfire missiles, bear resemblance to the V-2 in their ability to operate unseen and to strike without warning.
In the post-PRISM age of mass surveillance and invisible war, artists, alongside journalists, whistleblowers and activists, reveal the technological infrastructures that enable events like drone-strikes to occur.
I've now seen quite a few exhibitions that explored the politics, ethics and meanings of drones. A screaming comes across the sky manages to bring a fresh and compelling perspective on the issue by taking sometimes a more oblique, metaphorical approach to drones. While the curator selected some of the most iconic works dealing directly with drones today, he also looked at artists who are interested in questions of surveillance and control but in a rather poetical, symbolic or even sometimes humourous way.
Martha Rosler's Theater of Drones is a great introduction to the subject of drone warfare. The banner installation was first exhibited in Charlottesville, the first city in the United States to pass a law restricting the use of drones in its airspace
Talking about the drones, Rosler said: "They appear to make war invisible, but of course in the countries that we're bombing, and where people are being killed, they are a terror fact of everyday life. They don't terrorize us, because we have this classic split, which we also had during the Vietnam War of over here and over there are two different worlds, and they're not really connected."
The banners list a series of chilling facts about drones: "The Air Force has plotted the drone future to 2047. The Pentagon plans to increase funding by 700% over the next decade." "Since 2004, drone strikes have killed an estimated 3,115 people in Pakistan. Fewer than 2 percent of the victims are high-profile targets. The rest are civilians, and alleged combatants. " And this little gem of a quote by a Pentagon official:
"They don't get hungry. They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes."
The same room also showed works developed by fabLAB Asturias. The prototypes, platforms and maps bring the drone issue into a context closer to citizens' daily interests and experiences (a dedicated post about fabLAB's drone experiments is coming up!) Their projects also remind the public that the U.S> military doesn't have the monopoly of questionable use of drones. Using them for surveillance, border control and in military contexts is very much part of the European agenda as well.
Quick tour of the other works on show:
As part of his ongoing research on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Lot Amoros placed posters around Egypt to inform people how to protect themselves from Israel's Heron drones. Israel is the world's leading exporter of military drones. As this video shows, Israeli drones and other weapons meet with great success on the international market as they have been repeatedly tried and tested on Palestinians.
The instructions of the Dronism document were directly quoted from real Al-Qaida drone documents. All al-Qaida references or aggressive languages were removed and replaced with peaceful instructions for the sole purpose of offering innocent civilians a series of tools to protect themselves from unmanned aerial vehicles, using common materials and trash to construct frequency inhibitors, camera blinders, etc.
Amoros also intended to send the instructions to Palestine on board a tiny DIY drone. It turned out that flying the quadcopter over the border into Palestinian territory was too dangerous. The artist and activist did however succeed to send the instructions via underground tunnels.
I was so glad to get another chance to see Grasso's wonderful On Air again. , The film, shot in 2009 in The United Arab Emirates, looks at traditional hawk hunting. The bird in the movie is equipped with light and sophisticated surveillance equipment. Once let to roam free above the land, it becomes a spying tool, recording every dune and village it flies over. The images are fascinating but they are also threatening.
The movie and its paranoia-inducing music reminds us that a technique to use pigeons for aerial photography of enemy lines during wars was developed as early as 1907. The practice might not have vanished completely. A few years ago, articles reported that Iranian security forces had captured a pair of "spy pigeons," not far from one of the country's nuclear processing plants.
Which brings us nicely to Alicia Framis's History of Drones. Her taxidermied work presents the pigeon as the predecessor of today's drones. In 1908, German apothecary Julius Neubronner patented aerial photography by means of a pigeon photographer. The invention was tried out for military air surveillance in the First World War and later.
Besides actually being used in military contexts as a means of surveillance and collecting intelligence, they were indeed unmanned aerial instruments, which might had a different historical importance if it wasn't for the quick and strong progress in the field of aviation. In this new work, Framis creates a light-hearted reminder of the evolution of aerial espionage.
MQ1 Predator Drone Shadow
Check out the video below for more details about Bridle's interest in drones:
The talk is available in spanish as well.
Really like this work. I wrote about it Here.
A video showing 56 remote-controlled toy helicopters taking to the sky to great chaos.
A screaming comes across the sky. Drones, mass surveillance and invisible wars is at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre) until 12 April 2015. In collaboration with Lighthouse.
Related stories: Flone, The Flying Phone, A dystopian performance for drones, KGB, CIA black sites and drone performance. This must be an exhibition by Suzanne Treister, Under the Shadow of the Drone and The Digital Now - 'Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity'.
Over the past two years, artist Daniela de Paulis has been working with radio astronomers, radio amateurs, neuroscientists and philosophers to develop Cogito, a research project that speculates on the creative and philosophical possibilities of exploring the cosmos by means of radio waves.
She presented the first chapter of her work at BIO 50, the 24th Biennial of Design that opened a few weeks ago in Ljubljana. Cogito was part of a group of projects that explore new ways for human to connect with and explore outer space.
On the opening day of the biennial, visitors were invited to put on a light Brain-Computer Interface headset. Their brain waves were then recorded as they walked and thought across the exhibition space. This collective performative thinking will later be converted into radio waves and transmitted as collective consciousness - and subconsciousness into space. The event will be streamed in real time as audio visual performance from the cabin of the Dwingeloo radio telescope in The Netherlands.
The title of the project obviously refers to the ongoing debate on mind-body-consciousness, and to Descartes' dualistic vision on the mind-body matter. And that's when it gets interesting:
Some scholars argue that the computer age contributed in reviving this debate thanks to the new prominent role of the technological mind. Also recent experiments in quantum physics seem to suggest extraordinary links between the matter of the mind and that of the cosmos, raising profound questions on the nature of consciousness and perception. Sending thoughts into outer space is a symbolic action for shifting our consciousness from the earth-centred perspective, to the cosmos-wide perspective, whilst questioning the mathematical notion of intelligence, as conceived by some relevant SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers.
I contacted Daniela to talk about brain lab, radio telescopes for artistic experiments and 'interstellar transmissions as a tool for philosophical enquiry.'
For the BIO 50 exhibition, the brain waves of the visitors are recorded thanks to a brain lab connected to a computer. Could you describe the setting and technology used? What does this brain lab look like?
During the opening day of BIO 50 I have been recording the brain waves of the visitors thanks to a NeuroSky mobile headset which transmits live EEG data to a computer via Bluetooth, up to 10 metres distance. The EEG data are then saved as video recording. The actual set up of the piece is created to minimize its visual impact in the gallery space,
I wanted the piece to be practically invisible: the visitors walking across the space, or simply sitting or standing while 'thinking' are the real presence of the piece. Because the technical aspect of the piece is relatively simple, anybody owning an EEG device can email me the recording of his or her brainwaves over the duration of BIO 50, to be transmitted into space as part of the live performance. The actual art piece is in the aether more than at the gallery.
The brain waves will later be transmitted 'as collective consciousness - and subconsciousness - by the Dwingeloo radio telescope antenna'. So technology can also detect subconsciousness? Sorry for the dumb question but is that possible? Can it distinguish the conscious and subconscious waves?
The piece I am presenting as part of BIO 50 is the first step of a long term project. This time I am using a simple yet relatively accurate device which detects EEG frequencies, ranging from Beta (representing the most intense state of alertness), Alpha (state of relaxed alertness), Theta (state of inward thought, visualization and dreaming) and Delta (state of dreamless dream). Interestingly, all these brain waves are always present and intertwined in the electroencephalogram, our mind seems to continuously shift from one state to another, as if fluctuating from dream to reality, from consciousness to subconsciousness, rather than being fixed in a particular mode, according to the set of our actions. As part of the project development however I am also planning to transmit into space brain waves recorded in specific conditions, such as during sleep and even perhaps of animals.
I read that the Dwingeloo Radio Observatory was no longer in operation in an official capacity. What is it used for now?
The radio telescope was rescued by radio amateurs in 2005: they brought it back to working order and it is now used for HAM radio activities and educational programmes. In 2009 I became the first artist in residence at Dwingeloo and since then I have been developing a series of projects based on radio transmissions, often web streamed live from the cabin of the radio telescope. Together with the radio amateurs, we are now developing an international residency programme and hopefully Dwingeloo will become an art hub in the near future. Not many radio telescopes can be used for artistic experiments, especially transmissions, so this instrument is really unique. After a year long restoration, the dish has been officially reopened in April 2014.
I have been thinking about 'Cogito' for a couple of years already. In previous works I have been using radio waves to literally touch the surface of the Moon, receiving its reflected signals in form of visualized thoughts, in 'Cogito' I explore the possibility of travelling into space with the mind in greater depth. A few months ago Michio Kaku published an interesting book gathering the most futuristic theories in neuroscience, indeed we might be travelling into space by uploading our mind into laser beams in the far future. NASA is currently developing the technology for transmitting HD data into space by laser beam instead of radio waves, who knows how long it will take before we might be able to fully use our mind for experiencing space remotely.
How easy (or difficult) is it to convince neuroscientist, radio astronomers and philosophers to collaborate on your project? Cogito must be miles away from their everyday research and work...
Convincing the radio amateurs and radio astronomers I have been working with for the past five years was very easy. I made an official presentation of 'Cogito' at ASTRON, the Dutch research centre for radio astronomy, and realized that the idea of transmitting one's thoughts into space resonates with some of the radio astronomers' interest in SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). For the aspects of the project concerning neuroscience, I have been working with Prof. Ghebreab, his team and students at the University of Amsterdam. When we started collaborating last year, Prof Ghebreab was working on brain waves transmissions across the Internet, his interests seem to match my project and he appreciates the concept of 'global brain' emerging from 'Cogito'. The philosophers are undoubtedly offering interesting insights and are directly involved in my conceptual research as the project touches upon the unsolved debate on dualism of mind and body. The research method I use as an artist however doesn't always fit the philosophers' analytical framework, causing some misunderstanding, at times.
I often find space so remote from my daily life that it almost become abstract. What is it in space that you find so fascinating? Why should we be more aware of its existence and the possibilities it offers?
I have always been interested in space, in all its forms. Before starting my work at the Dwingeloo radio telescope, I was busy with a research on harbour cities and their spatial and commercial networks across the globe. I guess I am interested in global perspectives.
Outer space is becoming increasingly relevant in our culture and economy. Our bodily limitations when it comes to direct contact with outer space raise questions on how can we perceive it, since we are part of it, yet denied its direct experience. This is one of the topics that fascinates me the most about outer space. For me transmitting brain waves into space is a form of physical space travel, with our mind converted into electromagnetic waves that travel in space at the speed of light. It is also a symbolic action for shifting our awareness from the Earth-centred perspective to the Cosmos-wide perspective and looking at ourselves from a far away point of view, understanding the relativeness of our position in the vastness of space.
Cogito is part of your PhD research. Could you explain us what the PhD focuses on?
'Cogito' is the departing point of my PhD artistic research at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Since starting my exploration on interstellar transmissions as a tool for philosophical enquiry, I have been questioning how to envision outer space by using thought as intellectual experience of the unseen. As part of my artistic research I am also interested in the role of philosophy in understanding the impact of outer space on our cognition. I am especially interested in mind bending theories which seem to stand in between Philosophy of the Mind and Physics (such as the 'Orchestrated Objective Reduction', conceived by Dr. Stuart Hameroff and Sir Roger Penrose) and which challenge our long standing knowledge on who we are in relation to the universe. Science keeps expanding our knowledge of outer space, yet direct cognition is restricted to our native planet and its close proximity. How can philosophy bridge the gap between scientific research in outer space and our earthy cognition? And how will our cognition change, should we be able to expand our mental and bodily capabilities in outer space, thanks to technology and a deeper understanding of our mind?
The installation in Ljubljana is the first part of the project. What's next?
The 'Cogito' of the visitors recorded during the opening day in Ljubljana will be converted into radio waves and transmitted into space with a beacon transmission lasting a few hours, thus covering a large angle of the sky dome. The event will be streamed in real time as audio visual performance from the cabin of the Dwingeloo radio telescope. Date and time of the performance will be communicated on the BIO 50 social media and on my website.
It is expected that the project will be further developed in collaboration with the 'Overview Institute', a group of researchers engaged with the study of the 'Overview Effect' (the effect of seeing the Earth from outer space) on the cognitive state of astronauts who had the opportunity to witness the sight. A brain lab, a bit more sophisticated than the one used for BIO 50, will be permanently installed inside the cabin of the Dwingeloo radio telescope, and used by visitors who will be able to transmit their thoughts into outer space, while experiencing the immersive view of the Earth seen from space through a visual simulator.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Science Fiction: New Death seeks to provoke the question - have the Sci Fi visions we once imagined of the future since become a reality? I guess we all know the answer to that one.
Because i write mostly about art and science/technology, i've seen my fair share of exhibitions that reference scifi. However, FACT's latest show is the first one i've visited that is entirely dedicated to science-fiction and visual arts. And in this instance, science fiction isn't explored as the ultimate future forecaster, it is rather the starting point of a reflection on our current condition, an invitation to explore how our relationship with technology has made our everyday lives increasingly look like it is set against the backdrop of a science fiction novel.
Inspired by the work of J.G. Ballard, our story looks to the bleak, man-made landscapes of the future and asks: What happens when virtual environments become indistinguishable from reality? Will our global culture allow us to choose where to live, and who will stop us? What will we do with knowledge that becomes freely available to all? With social platforms acting as camera, how will 'selfies' develop and what new forms of narcissism will thrive? What is it that we need to preserve, and what do we need to change? These questions are explored through intense visualisations of electronic communication, dystopian domestic interiors, and re-enactments of historical revolutionary moments.
New Death, a title which comes from a text that fantasy writer China Miéville wrote for the exhibition, is ominous but so are the glimpses that the participating artists give into the techno-mediated we've built ourselves: conditions of intensified surveillance and repression, border control, loss of citizenship, etc. Not everything is bleak and joyless in the show though. You can bounce off a trampoline and pretend you're an astronaut, meet intelligent robots that attempt to avoid boredom at all costs, you can even participate to the exhibition by writing a story describing a dystopian near future. I don't know what a sci-fi fan would make of the exhibition but i found it smart, provocative and thought-provoking.
Quick overview of the show:
Accomplice is a small clique of social autonomous robots hidden behind one of FACT's gallery walls. Because these machines are curious, they attempt to discover their environment and the first step to live new adventures is to break down the wall. Their mechanical arm relentlessly punches against the wall. In the process, they not only make holes, they are also acquiring knowledge: how the wall react to their poking, how to best expand their horizon and what it is like out there, on the other side of the wall.
As the wall disappears, the robots discover other creatures: the gallery visitors. The more they can see and hear, the more excited and active these robots are getting. Their behaviour, however, isn't predictable and linear. As soon as the movements and noises made by the visitors or the colours and patterns they are wearing have become too familiar, the robots become bored. In a sense, the roles usually taken by the audience and the robots or the artefacts and the visitors are reversed: the robots are the spectators and the gallery goers perform for them.
I had a chance to talk with Rob Saunders at the press view. I scribbled our conversation on a bit of paper, lost it so i'm going to point you to this Robots Podcast: Curious & creative in which he talks about being inspired by Gordon Pask's conversation theory, designing curious systems, the laws of novelty and the social structure that might evolve from them.
The bits and pieces of walls laying unceremoniously on the floor and the unpredictable attitude of the Accomplice robots echo the exhibition experience that Venya Krutikov & Michael Lill of The Kazimier have designed for Science Fiction: New Death. They turned the FACT building into a disordered, stern and slightly disquieting space to navigate. Your movements inside the gallery might or might not be filmed. That poorly-lit corridor might be off limit. That door over there might open on another artworks or maybe it's a dead end.
Before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon in 1969, the NASA elaborated various exercises to understand how man would move in microgravity. The experiments were not just simulations but "pre-enactments" of a new set of rules that we were about to enter, providing a window into the future through which NASA researchers collected not only data but also visual impressions. One such experiment was conducted at Stanford University in the mid-1960s by Thomas R. Kane. The applied mechanics professor had studied the ability of cats to spin their body mid-air so that they could securely land on their four paws. Kane would film a cat bouncing on a trampoline, study its movements, and then a gymnast in a spacesuit would try to reproduce the cat's movements on the trampoline.
Sascha Pohflepp's Camera Futura enables visitors to replicate the experiment. You are invited to wear a light space suit and jump on the trampoline while a camera captures your moves.
The energy stored in the trampoline's springs amplifies the power of our muscles, so that we can briefly launch ourselves and experience an instant of relative weightlessness when falling back to Earth. Camera Futura captures images from that very instant. These photos allow for a glimpse of our brief moment in a post-gravity world. In a sense, they are impressions of ourselves from one of many futures.
The Infinity Burial Project is an art project with an aim to help us accept the reality of our own death. It is also a very bold and practical alternative to current burial system. Once buried or cremated, our bodies do not just decompose and vanish, they also contribute to the deterioration of the environment by releasing the toxic pollutants that our bodies have accumulated over the course of the years: pesticides, preservatives and heavy metals such as lead and mercury.
Jae Rhim Lee has thus developed the Mushroom Death Suit, a burial suit infused with mushroom spores to assist the decomposition of human corpses. The outfit comes with capsules that contain infinity mushroom spores and other elements that speed decomposition and toxin remediation. Besides, an open source burial container, and a membership society devoted to the promotion of death awareness and acceptance and the practice of decompiculture (the cultivation of decomposing organisms).
Facial Weaponization Suite is a playful but also dark critique of the silent and gradual rise of the use of biometric facial recognition software by governments to monitor citizens.
Masks remain an effective tool to prevent identification technologies from capturing, analyzing, archiving and identifying our face. The use of mask also refers to social movements that use masks as a sign of protests. From the Zapatista rebels, to Pussy Riot, Anonymous, etc.
Brad Butler and Karen Mirza are presenting Deep State, a film scripted by science fiction author China Miéville. The film takes its title from the Turkish term "Derin Devlet," meaning "state within the state," and tells a story about the representation of political struggle, moments of crisis, solidarity, schisms and oppression.
The whole film, which overlays archive protest footage and performed interludes, is online:
At first, i wasn't sure what to make of it but, as the images rolled on, i started connecting them to what was going on in Ukraine at the time of the press view of the show and i realized that at this very moment, maybe we still have a choice: we can be the people who raise their heads, protest and attempt to take some control back or we can be the people who are blindly herded into a society of control.
Also part of the show: Nation Estate, a "vertical solution to Palestinian statehood."
The KOSMICA: Full Moon Party took place last month as part of the Republic of the Moon exhibition programme and that means that I'm ridiculously late with these notes. Kosmica is The Arts Catalyst's evenings of performance and conversations for the 'cosmically curious.' I've attended a couple of Kosmica events in the past and this one was as exciting as ever.
Space scientist Lucie Green is an expert in the sun but she gave a wonderful presentation about the magnetic bubble that surrounds and protects the earth from the radiation of the sun and about how the moon is electrically charged, Dr Jill Stuart focused on space politics, Tomas Saraceno talked about cities that are lighter than the air, Kevin Fong asked us to reflect on how past expeditions might actually belong to the future.
Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser from WE COLONISED THE MOON presented the largest Moon smelling session ever done on our planet. It was hilarious and it didn't smell nice. My wool sweater is not thanking them.
London based improvisation band Orchestra Elastique live scored Georges Méliès' A trip to the Moon.
All the talks are online. I enjoyed all of them but i wanted to spend more time on the most 'political' ones so i'm writing down below some notes and links from Kevin Fong and Jill Stuart's presentations.
Kosmica Full Moon Party Part 6, Jill Stuart
Dr Jill Stuart is a Fellow in Global Politics at the London School of Economics, and reviews editor for the journal Global Policy. She researches law, politics and theory of outer space exploration and exploitation. Her interests extend to the way terrestrial politics and conceptualisations such as sovereignty are projected into outer space, and how outer space potentially plays a role in reconstituting how those politics and conceptualisations are understood in terrestrial politics. ,
Stuart talked about the long history of outer space law and more specifically about 'Who owns the Moon?' (which she calls the Muuuhn)
We all know that iconic image of Neil Armstrong planting a flag 1969. Did the gesture imply that the United States can claim any kind of ownership over the moon? Who owns the moon exactly?
The answer is a combination of 'no one' and 'everyone' owns the moon.
No One because The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 says that outer space (which obviously includes the moon) cannot be 'appropriated' by any national State for sovereign purposes.
Everyone because the same treaty states that outer space is the province of all mankind.
The treaty was widely ratified and is still today accepted as being doctoring.
Now another interesting issue Stuart raised was the number of flags on the moon. The US chose to put a US flag on the moon, rather than some sort of global flag. But it turns out that there are more than one US flag on the moon. 6 US flags were delivered by humans on the Appolo mission.
And it wasn't just the US who got 'flag happy'. Four other countries had flags delivered even though it didn't have legal significance in terms of appropriation. Russia, China, India and the European Space Agency also have flags up there. Russia and China have soft landed on the moon and delivered flags. The other delivery method is to crash something on the moon that bears a flag.
Speaking of crashing into the moon: the moon is at the center of many geopolitical interests. In the 1950s, the United States were thinking about landing on the moon to show off their technological prowess (in particular to the Soviet) but a top secret study revealed that the US also briefly considered nuking the moon, instead of landing on it. The fall off would enable scientist to study the geological make up of the moon and the flash from the nuclear explosion would create a difference on the surface of the moon that could be seen back on earth.
The first Apollo mission carried a plaque which still stays on the moon and says "Here men from the planet earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969. We came in peace for all mankind."
The last human mission on the moon was in 1972. Since then there has only been some soft landing.
Since then, one of the big issues that have emerged is mining. Is mining the moon legal? Is it even desirable?
The moon might have helium-3 which could be a fuel to travel from the moon to other planets. But is it legal? The Outer Space Treaty is a bit ambiguous in that regard. It says that any activity should be carried out for the common heritage of our kind and benefit all people and all countries. The treaty therefore advises to redistribute anything that should be gained from mining. However, the fifth treaty (1979) sought to clarify some of these issued but mostly failed as only very few countries ratified it.
In 2002, China stated their moon intentions. They included establishing a base on the moon for the purpose of mining, they said that the resources that they extract would be for the benefit of humanity. What does that mean?
Stuart believes that mining will be a big issue in the future.
Another problem of the main Outer Space Treaty is that they are rooted in a state-centric language. Many people are curious about the companies that sell plots of land on the moon and other celestial bodies. The outer space treaty says that no nation state may lay claim on a celestial body. So does that give green light to individuals, corporations or private partnership? Stuart doesn't believe so. We are only now learning to deal with the fact that it's not just states that are planning to go into outer space. Wealthy individuals and corporations are looking at it too. Outer space law still have to catch up with that.
Kosmica Full Moon Party Part 5, Kevin Fong
Kevin Fong, a space medicine expert and the co-director of the Centre for Aviation Space and Extreme Environment Medicine (CASE Medicine), at University College London, talked more generally about exploration.
There aren't any wide space left to explore on the surface of the Earth. A hundred years ago, however, there were still many places where humans had never been (South Polar region, some of the highest mountains, etc.) Now we've explored the earth, the air, we've even been to the moon. What happens next?
We're a bit blasé about the future. Going to the moon doesn't look like a big deal anymore now.
There are some myths regarding the public attitude about moon exploration. It is said that everybody was really into it in the 1960s and then everyone lost interest. But in fact, research shows that approval for the Apollo mission never reached 50% amongst members of the U.S. until they landed on the moon and then approval reached a high point for a couple of weeks and then went back down again. So people weren't so enthusiastic about sending men to the moon.
Why did we go to the moon? We already know that it was a surrogate battlefield for a war that could not be fought in any other way. And some of the people who were the architects of Apollo had actually been around during some of the most atrocious moments of the 20th century. And if they didn't take part in it, they were certainly aware of it and did nothing to stop it. Some of them even probably were 'card-carrying nazis' until the day they died. Yet, we celebrate them in a revised history. And some of the research actually emerges from the V2 rocket. We look for vision and inspiration when actually the mission comes from some of the darkest pages of human history.
Was Apollo worth it? Someone said that Apollo was an aberration and that it was a piece of 21st century that was dragged into the 20th. Which is why we never went back. It was just too hard to do and it was too soon. And that is the way that most explorations are done.
We see romanticism behind most explorations. According to Fong, the exploration of any time doesn't make sense to the rational people of the same time. When you look back at the great explorations of the past, it's the same story. It's some imperial power leading their effort through their military, usually at great expense and great risk of human life.
An illustration of this theory is Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe between 1518 and 1522. In 1518, Ferdinand Magellan can't convince Portugal to support his expedition project so he goes to rival Spain and sails with 5 ships and about 280 sailors. The whole expedition is a real ordeal. 3 mutinies, 4 ships lost, Magellan dies before the completion of the expedition and the only ship that manages to get back to Seville is sailed by only 18 men. In fact, Magellan had not even intended to circumnavigate the world, but to find a secure way to the Spice Islands. Yet, we remember this episode as being a glorious page of history and we recognise it as an important stepping stone. But the men at the time probably thought that too high a cost had to be paid. To Fong, you can only love the exploration of a moment so that people of the future will vicariously enjoy it on your behalf later.
So is this the point when human exploration stops? When we come to realize that it is too expensive and comes at too high a human price?
The Moon is the furthest point we've ever been from the earth. How will history see project Apollo? We will either see it as we see Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe as an important step along a much longer journey or we will see it as we see the pyramids, an amazing achievement but "Why the hell did they do that?"
Image on the homepage from Moon, a 2009 British science fiction film about a man on a three-year solitary stint mining helium-3 on the far side of the Moon.
Previously: Should we colonize the Moon?
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
Their installation, performance and graphic works seek to demonstrate that the future may indeed be frightening, but also highly entertaining. Previous projects have included creating solutions for space waste by disguising satellites as asteroids, building a solar powered solarium because 'the sun dies anyway', synthesising the smell of the moon and embedding it into scratch and sniff cards. So we're going to talk space colonisation, moon smell patent and their current residency at the Republic of the Moon.
On Saturday i went to The Arts Catalyst's Open Think Tank Late Breakfast, the round table discussion was part of a series of events that frame the exhibition Republic of the Moon. Both were very good. The exhibition and the panel, that is.
The first speaker was Ian Crawford, Professor of Planetary Science and Astrobiology at Birkbeck College, University of London. His research is mainly concerned with lunar science and exploration, and he has a significant interest in the future of space exploration.
Crawford started by answering the question Should We Colonise the Moon? with a simple "Yes, with caveat!"
The caveats are:
The United Nations treaty about the moon currently states that no one legally owns the moon but there is a case for developing the law as private companies may want to exploit it for its minerals.
The other part of the question was What's the future for the Moon - theme park or quarry?
The moon's surface area is roughly 10% bigger than Africa.
At this point, someone in the audience (probably Rob La Frenais) asked about the limited scientific equipment that can be taken to the moon because it seems that on board, priority is given to supplies that would enable human beings to actually survive in space.
Professor Crawford explained that the moon is a completely airless environment but that there might be ways to extract lunar water and oxygen. For water, we would first need to confirm the existence of ice craters on the surface of the moon. The presence of ice would greatly facilitate colonization. Oxygen could be extracted from the very dry lunar rocks. It would, however, be a very energy intensive process.
(More about the views of Ian Crawford on Moon exploitation in The Telegraph.)
Another brilliant contribution was from Rev Dr Jeremy Law, the Dean of Chapel for Canterbury Christ Church University, who had been invited to give a theological perspective on moon colonization.
He made 3 important observations:
The Earth is a nurturing realm, whereas the moon is a life-denying environment. A human colony on the moon would be a celebration of human achievement, another triumph of humanity over nature.
A lunar colony has nothing to do with the colonization of the New World, it would mostly serve the interests of the already successful.
Finally, the economic investment required means that the narrative of capitalism (with its notions of efficiency and competition) would simply continue. Scientific research on the moon, for example, would thus be determined by those who can finance it.
Law believes that the main contribution of a lunar colony is the way it could reshape human religion on earth.
The last speaker was Benedict Singleton, a strategist with a background in design and philosophy. He is the author of the forthcoming book The Long Con, an alternative history of design, and regularly writes on the politics and philosophy of technology.
Singleton believes that we need deeper narratives to understand what it means to achieve moon colonization.
Another interesting point was raised by Sue Corke who reminded us of Thomas Austin, the man responsible for introducing rabbits in Australia. As we know, he had no idea that a few rabbits released on his estate would lead to an invasion of the country. At the time he had declared, "The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting."
Could the equivalent happen on the moon with something human colons would bring along? Rob noted that actually in 1969, the NASA put everything that came back from the Moon - from rocks to hardware to the Apollo 12 crew - in quarantine and ran tests to make sure they didn't come back covered with new and potentially harmful microbes or bacteria. As you can see in the photo above, it must have been a hilariously pleasant experience.
Of course, it was about protecting the Earth from potential moon germs. Not the opposite.
That's it for my notes about the Saturday morning panel. As for the exhibition, just go! It has humour, intelligence and it's also really good art. You don't often get all these ingredients mixed in one show.
Agnes Meyer-Brandis is teaching geese how to fly to the moon, Leonid Tishkov never travels without his own personal moon, Katie Paterson has Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata reflected from the moon's surface via Earth, Liliane Lijn plans to write on the Moon using a laser beam, WE COLONISED THE MOON run a series of workshops and events as the Republic of the Moon's official art residents.
There's only a few days left to listen to Nicola Triscott and Ian Crawford discussing Moon ownership on BBC radio 4.