Last week, i visited This Is War, the degree show of BA Design at Goldsmiths. There were a few good surprises. The best one being The Welsh Space Campaign, a project that launches ordinary Welsh people into outer space, by finding a cosmic context for Welsh traditional culture and skills. Except that it wasn't really a surprise as i had been told repeatedly beforehand that i was brilliant must-see work. And so i went to the Old Truman Brewery to see it for myself.
Hefin Jones, The Welsh Space Campaign, 2013
A few months ago, young designer Hefin Jones started touring the last remaining wool mills in Wales and asked factory workers and craftsmen to help him make an astronaut suit. The work is not solely about making a series of space garments, it's also about catapulting these people into entirely new ambitions and dreams and discussing with them the possibility of sending local crafts and skills into space. "The project facilitates participatory speculation, in which the people are invited into the construction of cosmic objects, and their experience during this process allows them to speculate about the different possibilities of their skill.," Jones later told me in an email interview.
The suit is made of the fabric woven in the last remaining wool mills in Wales. The astronaut boots are traditional Welsh clogs crafted by a traditional clog maker. The whole pressure system that will enable the astronaut to sustain life in outer space was built by a Welsh plumber.
The aim of the designer is to reveal that Wales has the capacity to explore space, and to show that off-world culturalisation can be achieved through a collective communitarian effort; as a way to allow the people involved to reconsider their role and skill in relation to these cosmic contexts.
Even the emblem of the space mission is a pure Welsh reference: the tail of the red dragon that appears on the national flag:
The WSC is Jones's degree project but he plans to push it further by involving other industries, communities and cultures that would normally never even think of engaging with space travel. The designer has also started to look beyond the space suit and expand into the different material culture of a space program, working with physics professors in Aberystwyth University to calculate how to send Welsh cultural artefacts into space. He is also collaborating with Poet Laureate Ceri Wyn Jones to write a ten to one launch countdown poem, with each number referencing an aspect of Welsh culture.
I'm going to leave the last words to Hefin Jones: "It's about the small engagements with the possibility of space travel, the tensions, the small steps towards an unattainable goal, and the feeling this series of actions creates within them."
See also: Cristina De Middel, The Afronauts series, Larissa Sansour's Palestinauts and The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility.
Last Friday, i spent the evening at the Arts Catalyst for the Kosmica sound night, a social event for artists, scientists and the cosmically curious exploring sound and sonification of space. That means drinks, crisps, pop corn, space music and presentations by curator and artist Honor Harger, sound artist and composer Kaffe Matthews and designer slash sound artist Yuri Suzuki. With Nahum Mantra as master of ceremony.
I frantically took notes during the presentation, thinking i'd blog the talks until i realized that the Arts Catalyst was going to upload the video of the whole evening. So i'm going to merely point you to the videos: This way please!
Now all i'm going to write down is a summary of the presentations, along with a few links to the projects, historical facts and scientific discoveries mentioned during the presentations.
The first presentation was by Honor Harger. She is the director of Lighthouse, an arts agency in Brighton, UK. But she is also part of the artistic duo r a d i o q u a l i a together with collaborator Adam Hyde. One of their main projects is Radio Astronomy, a radio station broadcasting sounds from space. And i don't know how she does it but she also finds time to write a brilliant blog called Particle Decelerator.
Honor's presentation was an investigation into how we have used sound to gather information about space. We all have an idea of what space looks like. We've all seen images of it but what does space sound like?
Karl Jansky reads an instrument that detects radio waves from the Milky Way. © Bettmann/Corbis (via)
The story of the discovery of the sounds of space is intimately linked to the history of the telephone. From 1876 when Thomas Watson, the assistant of Alex Graham Bell, was listening through the wires to some strange sounds which corresponded in fact to activity taking place on the surface of the sun. To 1932 when Bell Telephone Laboratories engineer Karl Jansky was called to identify the cause of a "steady hissing" interfering with transoceanic telephone service. He correctly guessed that the noise wasn't coming from Earth but that they were cosmic radio noise from the Milky Way. The final stop Honor Harger made in the history of Bell Laboratories is 1964 when two researchers detected a source of low, persistent noise in Bell's antenna, the Holmdel Horn. It turns out that the noise was cosmic radiation that had survived since the birth of the universe. That was the first evidence of the Big Bang.
Honor's story was accompanied by a series of references to art and amateur science. I'm going to list them rapidly:
Joyce Hinterding's electromagnetic installation Aeriology (1995) "aeriology", a huge antenna that resonates to the VLF (very low frequency) section of the radio spectrum, and makes audible the crackle of spherics from the solar winds as they interact with the ionosphere and the background noise of the Milky Way, the energy emitted from stars.
Honor also showed one of my favourite videos of 2011: 20 Hz. The work observes a geo-magnetic storm occurring in the Earth's upper atmosphere. Working with data collected by CARISMA (Canadian Array for Realtime Investigations of Magnetic Activity), an array of magnetometers which study the Earth's magnetosphere and interprets the data as audio, allowing us to hear the "tweets" and "rumbles" caused by the interaction of solar wind with the Earth's magnetosphere.
Caroline Devine's 5 Minute Oscillations of the Sun, explores naturally occurring radio signal and solar activity and alternates every five minutes between acoustic and electromagnetic "listening modes" that provide new ways to "listen" to the sun.
Kaffe Matthews presented the work she created with Mandy McIntosh when they worked with NASA scientists and got to meet ex-astronauts to whom they asked "What is the sound like in space?" More about the project over here. The last part of her talk focused on the Star Gazer chairs, music and suits made to watch the star in the Galloway Forest, Scotland. The project was again developed with Mandy McIntosh and is called 'Yird, Muin, Starn,' which means earth, moon, star in old Scott.
Yuri Suzuki brought us firmly back to Earth with The Sound of the Earth, a spherical record with the sound engraved on the surface of the globe. Each country on the disc is engraved with a different sound, collected by Yuri Suzuki during his travels or with national anthems for the countries he had never visited.
During the last edition of Design Week, Yuri Suzuki drove a Sound Taxi around London. The vehicle was equipped with a microphone that recorded the noise of the city: traffic, screeching brakes, sirens, construction work, etc. A specially designed software analysed the frequencies of these noises and used them to generate music in real time.
His White Noise Machine calculates the quantity of street noise and then generates the same amount of white noise. The boxy design of the White Noise Machine was inspired that by the noise-generating devices that Italian Futurist Liugi Russolo built at the beginning of the 20th century. The videos showing children shouting at Suzuki's White Noise Machine is hilarious.
And with this i close my notes about Kosmica sound night.
A new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present ResonanceFM, will be broadcast today Tuesday 20th November at 4:00 pm. There will be a repeat on Thursday 22nd November 10:30 pm. You can catch it online if you don't live in London.
This week i' talking with Nelly Ben Hayoun about space science technologies, aliens and music. The designer spent a whole Summer in California to direct the International Space Orchestra. The cast of the opera is pretty spectacular. It is performed by space scientists from NASA Ames, Singularity University, International Space University and the SETI Institute. The music was composed by Damon Albarn, Bobby Womack, Maywa Denki and Arthur Jeffes. The lyrics are by Bruce Sterling & Jasmina Tesanovic. Finally, Grammy-Award winner Evan Price was in charge of the musical direction.
One of the next stops for the International Space Orchestra is going to be Space Odyssey 2.0, an exhibition that opens on 17 February 2013 at Z33 Contemporary Art Center in Hasselt.
Last week, while walking down Marylebone Road, i saw a sign pointing to an exhibition of works by graduating students from the University of Westminster MA Photojournalism. I'm not one to miss a photo show when i pass by it.
One of the most stunning photo series was In the Shadow of Faded Dreams by Zlata Rodionova. The young photo reporter traveled to Star City, a small town near Moscow that hosts the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, the heart of the Russia Space Programme. She encountered nostalgia for a time when the USSR was a Space Superpower, poor living conditions, impressive machinery and an inextinguishable passion for the cosmos.
The idealism of the Soviet Space programme speaks of serving humanity and a belief in peaceful future. However, politics has left a negative trace on these ideas and we often associate Gagarin with the tense atmosphere of the Cold War. Still, for people working at the Yuri Gagarin Training Centre, a military complex where all cosmonauts have been trained since the 1960s, Gagarin remains a hero while space is the only reality they know, almost blending with the surreal machines they work with, they seem to be trapped in a window of time. In the shadow of faded dreams, thus sheds the light on a close-knit community of space-lovers, still clinging to the decaying legacy of the 1960s Space dream.
I contacted Zlata to know more about the conditions in which she made the photo series. I suspected that the stories she'd tell me would be as fascinating as her images. And i haven't been disappointed...
In the past, Star City was a highly secret military installation and access to it was restricted. This is not the case anymore. How easy was it for you to visit the training rooms, talk with people working there, and document what you saw? Did you need to obtain special permissions? Could you roam free and photograph as you wanted?
Indeed during Soviet Times, Star City's location was kept secret. Most ordinary Russians had only vague ideas about its location. The lucky few that had the chance to visit it (through jobs or rare state organised 'excursions') revealed that Communist's ideals promised by the State could only be seen and enjoyed there.
Today it is very different as you can visit it as a tourist, pretty much everyone in Russia knows where it is, however it is quite expensive.
For instance, the 'Russian Space Museum Tour' cost $165. You basically have to choose what exactly you want to see within the city or the centre but there is not really a tour that encompasses everything. So for me it quickly became evident that for my story to be told the way I wanted I would need to obtain a special press access.
It was very difficult to get. While explaining my project I often said that going there felt like travelling back in time to the Soviet era. For me this journey started at the very early stages, as when obtaining papers I had to deal with proper Soviet style administration. One call to one office led to another. I had to obtain different permissions to live in the city's hotel, be able to walk around the city freely and a separate one for the training centre. As in soviet times the person on the desk could not give me any information as long as the head or deputy-head of the administration was not there. If the person in question was on holiday I would have to wait for days. I don't know what it would have been like for a foreign photographer, as the first question I would be asked was "Do you have Russian passport?", which fortunately I do.
The process became a bit easier when I commissioned my story to the Russian political weekly magazine Profile which regularly runs photo-reportages alongside more political and business orientated articles. With their support (they were more keen on working with an accredited photographer than an MA student), I was given access and allowed to live within Star City in the hotel Orbita for two weeks. In the whole it took me a month to get all the papers I needed.
Once on site, I could walk around freely in the residential area and document it in depth as well as discover its spirit and people but the training facility remained a closed zone. I was only allowed to be there on particular times, specific areas and always accompanied by someone from the media team or one of the instructors. Also when international crews would be training I was not allowed to photograph as it meant I would have to get another authorisation from NASA.
How big is Star City? How many people are living and working there? I'm interested in the size of the place because many of the photos show huge rooms with machines, cockpits, training simulators but there is no animation, no people busy working on it, getting in or out of the capsules for example. You mostly show people posing for a portrait. Is Star City so vast and desolate? Or was it just your choice to depict it like that?
Star City itself is a small town about 25km of Moscow, it is within this town that you can find the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre but they are two distinct areas and have two distinct administrations. They divided in 2009 when the town itself became subordinate to Moscow Oblast (Moscow region) while the centre is administrated by Roscosmos.
The city has about 6,500 inhabitants. Approximately one-third of whom are pensioners aged 60 to 90 years. This year the city will even celebrate the 100th birthday of one of its citizens. Most of them are former employers of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC).
The city was an intriguing place. To me it felt as if I was in an Soviet sanatorium or pensioner's retreat but one dedicated to Gagarin, his statues and portraits gaze at you from every corner while you can buy your groceries at the supermarket Little Star or go for lunch at the cafeteria Little Sun. On the days where I couldn't photograph there were old people sitting by the lake sun bathing. But the glory of the olden days is definitely gone. The town has not received any funding since the nineties, and the flats have not been renovated since the sixties. For many residents hot water or heating is a treat that only occurs on occasional days.
The training facility itself is a place of visual contradictions - colourless decaying buildings are aligned in an orderly way, however inside you discover machines that you could only expect to encounter in Stanislav Lem's science-fiction novels.
For my project, I decided to focus predominantly on the training centre, as Star City's residents' lives revolve around it and it is there that you can see all the commitment, relationship between men and machines as well as the last glimpses of the Soviet Space dream. While walking around it, you can see people are working and it is more active than shown in my pictures, however as the physical space and machines are huge it always seems pretty empty. The atmosphere that comes out of this gives you the impression of walking through a dream that is slowly fading away, I wanted to capture the strange magic locked beneath the surface in order to reveal the nostalgia associated to the USSR's status of Space superpower and shed the light on a close-knit community of space-lovers, still clinging to the legacy of the 1960s Space dream.
Thanks to the use of my medium format camera, the Leica S2, 30 x 45 mm in size, which often had to be used on a tripod due to poor lighting conditions within the training centre, I managed to create a distance both physical and psychological between myself and my subjects. The aim was to create a surreal, respectfully distanced and neutral mood leaving the viewer to make his own opinion about my pictures and this particular place.
Being motivated by the desire to uncover the unknown, understand its purpose, and display its majesty this format also permitted me to show all the surrealism and grandeur of these gigantic training devices. Finally, this camera, does not allow you to take photographs in an instant, it requires more installation and planning, which gave me two advantages. First, it offered time for my subjects to open themselves up to me, and gave me the opportunity to shed the light on individuals that traditionally do not receive such attention. Second, the photograph produced is still, detailed and frozen, which helped me to suggest a community and place fixed in time in a volatile moment in the country's history.
The Russian space program seems to be pretty active though. I was reading this morning about the Soyuz capsule returning to Earth. Did your visit to Star City and the discussions you had with the people working there make you perceive space missions as adventurous and glamorous as ever? How much has your experience there changed or reinforced your perception of space travel?
One of the Russian space industry's main problems is financing. A third of the industry's enterprises are practically bankrupt. Compared to developed countries, Russia invests ten times less in research and development in the industry, and five times less in basic assets and personnel training.
Every single person that I spoke with: trainer, engineer, cosmonaut said that no one comes into this industry for money.
Also there is simply a loss of interest, if in the Soviet era cosmonauts were considered heroes and every single child dreamed of flying in the outer-space nowadays Russian schools don't run programs like astronomy anymore. I was amazed to find out that a cosmonaut who finished his military service, finished an MA in aerospace engineering, spent about 15 years training and 164 days in the outer space only received around $350 a month as well an allocated room within a shared flat for him, his wife and child. Another one told me he worked as a part-time taxi driver to make ends meet.
So the image I got out of there was definitely not the glossy one you get from US blockbusters with big rooms full of flat screens, and sleek looking man running around with perfectly ironed white shirts and coal black suits. The GCTC's people you see are probably from the most ordinary archetype you could imagine. Chubby smiling middle-aged men, or on the contrary older very dignified veterans, resembling the ones you see on postcards from the Soviet times. I also gained new respect for them, they really all are people of dreams. When asking the question what brought them here, most of them replied that they still remembered the day Gagarin was sent into space or the fact that they've been dreaming of flying to the stars since childhood. One of the trainers who works in the Hydrolab and couldn't qualify to be a cosmonaut said that after training cosmonauts for long hours under-water, at night he sometimes dreamed that he was himself walking in the outer-space.
They are all very aware of the crisis within the industry but no one wants to change jobs because it's simply their passion and they couldn't imagine their life without it. It does seem like they live in a bubble where time is standing still.
What are you going to do now that you've graduated?
My main problem is that I have too many interests. Besides photography I have a real passion for writing. For me they complete themselves.
So right now I am really hoping to find a job as a writer on photography, and finish to build my online portfolio and website, which I couldn't concentrate on while doing my MA. I am also hoping to promote and sell my project to a magazines as I really want my story to get out there.
Once I build up a portfolio strong enough and wider range of contact I would ultimately like to become a foreign correspondent.
Thank you Zlata!
Time machines, false memory, earthly landscape, moon rock gardening, flying saucers, lunacy, galactic adventures and the occasional rabbit. That's the world sketched by Sue Corke and Hagen Betzwieser. Roughly speaking, Sue is a printmaker and Hagen is a 'New New Media' artist but together they are more than the sum of their parts, they are We Colonised the Moon.
The work of WCTM is clever and nonsensical, dreamy and rooted in techno-scientific experiments. It is driven by its own logic. I'm not sure that the interview below is going to lift the whole mystery behind their work but i certainly had a lot of fun in the attempt.
Hello Sue and Hagen! I discovered your work a year ago, when you were showing '101 Harmless Scientific Experiments To Try At Home' at the Acme Project Space in London but you've obviously worked on many ideas and projects right after that. What are you up to this Summer?
Sue: This summer we have had two shows running, at EB&Flow in London and Villa Rosenthal in Germany. The shows are both mostly dealing with work we have done together over the last couple of years. Most recently we have been working on ideas about astronaut training and space maintenance, shooting a lot of videos and building moon rocks out of authentic moon dust simulant.
Hagen: This is definitely the direction we are focusing on now. Installation, video projection, artefacts, movement and performance. We started more 2D for sure because we came together through making graphic work, we continue to make prints but most of the time we're working on installations now.
You come from different backgrounds. Sue is involved in printmaking and illustration while Hagen used to work mostly with video and conceptual art. How did you two get to work together?
Sue: Pure accident. We literally bumped into each other at a bus stop in Norway. Hagen was in a residency programme at the Nordic Artists' Center in Dale (NDK) and I was visiting to make a short illustration project about forests and star constellations there.
Hagen: It all started a bit like RUN DMC and Aerosmith working together as studio neighbours.
Sue: Dale is surrounded by the most amazing Norwegian mountain and fjord landscapes. We made an expedition to Sognefjellet, a Photoshop perfect wilderness, and had endless discussions about how reality is constructed. In the process we discovered some shared interests. We both had backgrounds in science and media. My parents were chemists. Hagen was a junior astronomer in an observatory close to Heidelberg in Germany. I worked for a spell in advertising and multimedia. Hagen had been an art director for a design agency.
Hagen: Through endless hikes and talks about The Clangers, YPS, Blue Peter, Particles, Heinz von Foerster, Constructivist epistemology and so on somehow we came to the point where we thought it could be an interesting idea to work on a project together.
Sue: The ideas we generated during this trip were so fun that I definitely wanted to work like this more. And it was obvious Hagen had absolutely no idea about printmaking!
Hagen: True. I thought only about my little A4 laser jet. Oh boy :) But she convinced me the quick cartoon style sketches I make for my works would work really well as silkscreens. So this is how a nature encounter, theory, two different illustration styles, childhood interests, professional skills and ink became the starting point for our collaboration ... and even our name WE COLONISED THE MOON is made in Norway. Out of this small joint illustration / print project it became now an ongoing and growing collaboration since 2008.
You've '(re-)created' the smell of the moon in at least two exhibitions. How did you do that? How much of the result is the fruit of your imagination? Is this a pleasant smell?
Sue: Astronaut Charlie Duke, the tenth man to walk on the moon, said it was not unpleasant. The Apollo astronauts were drawn from the military. I think they knew what they were talking about when they likened the smell to gunpowder. Naturally this is their frame of reference but that's how we all interpret sensory information. I like the smell of burnt matches myself.
Hagen: No one can smell the moon directly of course. The vacuum in space prohibits this. But this gritty tacky meteor bombarded dust on the surface gets on to their spacesuits and back into the LEM. Then there is this massive reaction with oxygen and moisture. The loose molecules go off like firecrackers and generate the smell they experienced.
Sue: So, we had the smell synthesised by Steve Pearce, a chemist who is an international aroma expert in the UK. He makes flavours and smells commercially for his own company and had been approached by NASA some years ago to work on the smell of space for astronaut training.
Hagen: What's attractive to us about this phenomena is the strong link between smell and memory and the association with place, whether it's real or imagined is actually the crux the work we make hangs on.
Sue: Curator Caro Verbeek from the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam knew we were working on the idea of space aromas and asked us to make a piece for her for the event "Do It Smell It" on olfactory art in 2010. We came up with the idea of a scratch and sniff postcard from the moon. A momento from a place most people will never go. A fictional memory.
Hagen: Then in 2011 for a commission from The Arts Catalyst and FACT Liverpool we created an installation for the exhibition Republic of the Moon. Visitors could enter (on own risk) a film-set like test chamber. Periodically an astronaut resprayed an array of "authentic" moon rocks with synthesised lunar aroma. As longer you stayed in the environment as more you got pollinated with moon smell. After you left, the smell travelled for several hours with you on your clothes out into the city.
Sue: At the moment we are also doing a lot of "Live Moon Smellings" using helium balloons and pins! We have enough smell left to pollinate an area twice the size of the Olympic stadium.
What's behind the name We Colonised the Moon?
Sue: I guess it's really a kind of band name. A comment one of us made when we saw how lunar the glacier region we visited in Norway looked. It just stuck.
Hagen: The truth is the name comes from an encounter with an electricity pylon. Surrounded by this pristine wilderness the pylon looked like the first man made structure on a virgin planet -- which more or less then created the idea that this might be what it looks like when we start to colonise the moon.
Sue: So no, we're not necessarily all about science or space or pylons. We just started there.
By the way, Hagen can you tell us what are the scope, objectives and functions of the Institute of General Theory?
The Institute of General Theory is a project of indeterminate duration, for anything. It operates in an undefined area, in the grey zone where there is no distinction between fiction and science, art and craft, independent work and self exploitation; between game, experiment and paid work, between experimental and studio space, or between museum and university.
After I graduated in 2001 at Merz Akademie Stuttgart, the Institute of General Theory became, besides my daily agency design job, my independent playground for experimental projects. Then, when I became a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2005 the Institute turned into my full time artistic career. It's my operational format and combines pretty much everything I am interested in since early childhood until today in a professional dilettante way.
I have another question for you, Hagen, your short bio says that your "artistic practice is exploring the gaps and connections between art and science to create New New Media." I sometimes write about the connections between art and science so i'm interested in your mentioning of the gaps between them? What are the most interesting/fascinating gaps between art and science? And should they remain gaps or should they somehow be made to disappear?
Hagen: Working with scientists is mostly fun and generates often interesting results for both sides. But academic artistic research makes me grumpy! There is a lot of art-science-art, science-art-science that takes itself way too serious that even tumbleweed would stop to roll. New New Media is Post Artistic Research, liberated from University fantasies about how things should be done according to the most recently developed textbooks.
Sue: I grew up with the Clangers and Blue Peter and a DIY attitude to life. What I like about the way Hagen operates is I can walk right in and join in without worrying if we do it right. Misunderstanding is actually even productive.
Hagen: In the last couple of years there is so much sophisticated theory that it is sometime hard to see the art behind it. I am not saying my own work is not based on mountains of theory but I like to offer the observer first an enjoyable view and if he wants he can go and discover as much more as he wants in my landscape and not the other way around.
Sue: This suits me too. I think theory like technology should not be the thing you notice first.
Last summer, you were showing 101 (Almost) Harmless (Mostly) Scientific Experiments to Try at Home in London. Could you share some of them with us?
Hagen: Haha! The biggest experiment was definitely being holed up together for two months in ACME Project Space, a studio in Bethnal Green. Two options, homicide or art.
Sue: Indeed! Normally we work together on and off for say a couple of weeks max at a time and in between the work goes on online. This was altogether a different experience.
Hagen: The project was inspired actually by a children's book on science from the 1950s I think. You know the kind of thing. Make Your Own Atomic Bomb in 5 Easy Lessons.
Sue: What people want to get up to in the privacy of their own homes is their business. Mostly I guess it does not involve black holes but I think amateur science is a great tradition which should be encouraged. So we decided to tackle anti-gravity with an electric hoist, built our own design for a future satellite disguised as an asteroid and began a campaign against cosmic rays.
Hagen: From what I learnt the Scottish Enlightenment seems to have taken place mostly in the pubs of Leith. I have no problem with that. Dilettantism was always a powerful driving force for progress and only in recent times has it become this negative aftertaste. I am very happy to be a professional Dilettante!
Any upcoming projects, exhibition, residency, public presentation you could share with us?
Sue: The next thing we are definitely participating in this year is a special three day "Kosmica" festival at Laboratorio Arte Alameda with curator Nahum Mantra in Mexico City. "Republic of the Moon" will also travel on from Liverpool too and some more actions are in the pipeline.
Hagen: Also in September my latest work as the Institute of General Theory, "A Bucket full of Particles" will be part of On Dilettantism a wonderful show curated by Frank Motz at Halle 14, at Spinnerei in Leipzig, Germany.
... and of course ... (say it loud now!) ... NO COSMIC RAYS!
Thanks Sue and Hagen!
Authentic Goods from a Realistic Future is at EB&Flow, London until 1st September, 2012
It's hard to believe that the first tourist flight into space might already be planned for next year. But Joseph Popper is probably not very impressed by the prospect because he came up with an idea so bold even Richard Branson would think twice before funding it. The designer believes that there aren't many unknown territories for men to explore, really. One of the very few thrilling adventures left to mankind would be to send one person on a voyage into deep space from where they will not return.
And that's exactly what The One-Way Ticket proposes to do.
He obviously didn't test the idea himself but designed film-making props, contraptions and sets that follow the dogma 'zero gravity, zero budget'. The final short film comprises a collection of episodes transmitted from the spacecraft.
I need to repeat the idea: Send. One. Person. In. Space. Without. The. Prospect. Of. Ever. Coming. Back. And so i asked all the silly questions for you. Because that's what i'm here for.
Hi Joseph! Your project proposes to send one person on a voyage into deep space from where they will not return. Who would want to go on such journey?
I believe a person willing to go would not be so hard to find. The project emerged from an observation that we are running out of unknown frontiers to explore in the expedition sense - certainly on our own planet and it's near surroundings. Mount Everest, Antarctica and even the Moon have all transformed in our imagination from mythical bastions of discovery into touted destinations for extreme tourism. I am interested in this predicament, particularly surrounding ideas of space travel.
I propose a one-way journey as one of "the last adventures". This is how skydiver Felix Baumgartner described his attempt to break the record for the highest, fastest jump from the edge of Earth's atmosphere - so maybe he would want to go?
Is there a panic button? An emergency exit for the lonely traveler? Or is there really no way they can ever get back to earth? Is his or her wellbeing onboard ever monitored or catered for?
In my mind there is no panic button, no emergency exit, no return. The wellbeing for the astronaut is certainly catered for in order for them to complete the mission. In the project I focused more on different aspects of the astronaut's experience inside the space capsule, rather than the external workings of the mission architecture.
Do you have an idea of how far away in space the spaceship would be able to go? Or would it just rotate around the Earth?
What about communication with the Earth? Is there any?
The issue of communication with Earth has certainly been an important part of my research. The further we travel away from Earth we are subject to longer and longer delays in our communication with it: when you reach Mars it takes about 27 minutes for any sort of transmission from your spacecraft to reach home. It is therefore impossible to hold a normal conversation between two distant planets, and this factor contributes to psychological issues that include isolation, loneliness and also boredom.
But is it technically possible? How would the rocket or spaceship be powered for such a long period of time? And does the spaceship ever return to earth or does it become space junk?
In designing the mission scenario I have tried to abide by existing space mission principles and hardware. Archived mission plans that were never realised have also been important starting points for deciding on the trajectory of the spacecraft and time frame of the voyage. So yes, I will say it is technically possible to send someone beyond Mars with the technology we have today.
The text accompanying the work in the exhibition says "the exhibited works are a response to research into a range of human factors particular to the mission that also underline its extraordinary nature." Could you tell us what these human factors are? Are they physical? Emotional? and what the lone trip has to do with them?
The human factors range across many different issues - from the physical to the psychological and philosophical. Many of these directly relate to existing concerns and research around actual long duration space missions, and also to living in more hostile environments like Antarctica or on the International Space Station. However, when you simply take "coming back" out of the equation many of the questions are thrown wide open again.
These hint at some of the various questions I explored in my research, leading to some very interesting debates and conversations with different experts. We can find many examples in space mission analogues that simulate certain aspects of a one-way voyage. However what struck me most is that, as we are talking about something completely unprecedented, we can only ever really speculate on what such a voyage would be like until someone actually goes.
All images courtesy Joseph Popper.