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Posts tagged ‘peace’

Peace and outer space: the role of artists and developing countries

Acción Sonora. Mexican Space Collective. Kosmica México 2013 © Isela Vera Islas

Acción Sonora. Mexican Space Collective.
Kosmica México 2013 © Isela Vera Islas

I’ve just returned from the enormously successful KOSMICA Mexico 2013 in Mexico City, organised by Nahum Mantra, Laboratorio Arte Alameda and The Arts Catalyst – three nights with more than 400 people every night (mostly in their 20s) packing into a huge gallery to listen to art and science lectures and performances on space topics for four or five hours at a stretch!

While I reflect further on the extraordinary level of interest and excitement shown for this event, I thought I’d pop up a version of the talk I gave there, as it reflects on some of the reasons why I feel it is important to do such events outside Europe and the USA .

Cultural activities and the space programme

As an organisation commissioning artists’ projects that focus on science and technology as shaping forces in society and culture, outer space has been a place of particular investigation for The Arts Catalyst. Our work in the field of space activities has been wide-ranging: from launching artist-designed rockets to ‘space stations on earth’, artists’ residencies in astrophysics labs, and art and science experiments in zero gravity.

Kirsten Johanssen, Nomadic Nature Kit, proposed for ESA International Space Station cultural utilisation

Kirsten Johanssen, Nomadic Nature Kit, proposed for ESA International Space Station cultural utilisation

Although Arts Catalyst is more comfortable with an autonomous or DIY approach to space activities, technologies and domains, we have worked with some of the major space agencies to try to introduce a cultural component to their programmes. Between 2005 and 2008, the European Space Agency (ESA) contracted The Arts Catalyst to advise it on a cultural policy for cultural utilisation of the International Space Station, and to develop and undertake preliminary feasibility studies for a series of pilot artistic projects. This we did, producing a comprehensive report, an executive summary, and a selection of proposed projects checked by space technology specialists for feasibility.

ITACCUS

Following this interesting yet ultimately rather frustrating experience, in partnership with Roger Malina of the Leonardo Institute The Arts Catalyst co-founded – and I currently co-chair with Malina – the International Astronautical Federation’s Technical Activities Committee for the Cultural Utilization of Space (ITACCUS), which seeks “to promote and facilitate the innovative utilization of space and ground segments of space projects and systems, and space applications systems by professionals and organizations in the cultural sectors of society internationally, including all areas of the arts and humanities”.

The ITACCUS membership comprises individuals who act as liaisons to their organisations, and we currently have members from most of the major space agencies around the world as well as several cultural organisations. We continually seek liaison points from unrepresented countries. ITACCUS committee members believe that artistic and cultural activities should be directly included within the space agencies’ fields of activity, so that the wider meaning of space exploration can be considered and opened up.

As a committee of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), ITACCUS contributes to the IAF’s annual report to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) on which the IAF has observer status. In my role as co-chair of ITACCUS, I was invited a few years ago to address the about the activities and goals of ITACCUS to this UN committee, at a time when COPUOS was chaired by the Columbian diplomat Ciro Arévalo Yepes (also a member of ITACCUS).

The UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space was set up to review the scope of international cooperation in peaceful uses of outer space and to study legal problems arising from the exploration of outer space. In presenting the activities of ITACCUS to the many country representatives on the UN Committee, I argued for the importance of cultural activities in space activities, and the direct involvement of artists and cultural practitioners in space programmes.

Global commons

To understand the role of the UN COPUOS, I want briefly to introduce the concepts of global commons and space governance.

“Global commons” is a term typically used to describe international and supranational domains (those that lie – or should lie – outside the political reach of any one nation state), particularly in which the earth’s natural resources are found, and which are considered the common heritage of humankind. Global commons, according to the United Nations, include the deep oceans, Antarctica, the atmosphere, and outer space. Over the past few decades, there have been various attempts to legislate to protect these commons, to differing levels of success.

The operator of a Russian minisubmarine plants the Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole in 2007

The operator of a Russian minisubmarine plants the Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole in 2007

The Law of the Sea is a body of public international law which governs relationships between nations in respect to navigational rights, mineral rights, and jurisdiction over coastal waters. There is also maritime law. However, these bodies of law do little to nothing to protect deep oceans from human threats.

antarctic_satellite

Currently, the Antarctic Treaty regulates international relations with respect to Antarctica. The treaty entered into force in 1961 and currently has 50 signatory nations. It sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity on that continent.

Amy Balkin, Public Smog

Amy Balkin, Public Smog, 2004+

Since 2004, the artist Amy Balkin has campaigned to include the world’s atmosphere – that narrow band of air surrounding our planet on which all life depends – on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. However, most likely due to political pressures involved in what would essentially ban the increase of harmful chemicals in the atmosphere, most UNESCO-participating countries will not agree that the earth’s protective layer makes the list. For the visual component to what is largely a research and activist based project, Balkin assembles various letters and petitions that she has sent to country-based representatives of UNESCO as well as their responses.

Space law: who owns the Moon?

"The Owner of the Moon", magazine cover with interview of Jenaro Garjardo Vera

“The Owner of the Moon”, magazine cover with interview of Jenaro Garjardo Vera

Many, including the UN, consider outer space to be a global commons. It is often asked: Who owns outer space? Or, as someone at Kosmica Mexico asked more specifically: Who owns the Moon? Did the US or Russia stake their claims by putting flags or national symbols on the Moon?

In fact, before the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the Chilean musician, poet and lawyer Jenaro Gajardo Vera became famous between 1953 until his death in 1998, as the legitimate owner of the Moon.

Jenaro_Gajardo

This is his claim, which appeared to be legitimate, according to Chilean law at the time. It says:

“Jenaro Gajardo Vera, es dueño, desde antes del año 1857, uniendo su posesión a la de sus antecesores, del astro, satélite único de la Tierra, de un diámetro de 3.475.00 kilómetros, denominada LUNA, y cuyos deslindes por ser esferoidal son: Norte, Sur, Oriente y Poniente, espacio sideral.”

“Jenaro Gajardo Vera, is the owner, since before year 1857, joining to his possessions the one of his ancestors the celestial body, only satellite of the Earth, with a diameter of 3,475.99 kilometers, under the name of Moon, whose boundaries are, due to being an spheroidal body: North, South, East and West: outer space.”

According to Gajardo, his goals were:

- To make a “poetic protest taking part of the selection of potential inhabitants of the satellite,” because he wanted a world without jealousy, hate, vices nor violence.

- To acquire the moon in order “to join the Social Club of Talca, which had a membership requirement of having a property”

Such a benign motive for space ownership was a topic of interest to the media, but nothing to worry about, but in the 1960s, as the “space race” built momentum, the issue of space ownership became real and pressing. In 1967, United Nations sponsored the “Outer Space Treaty”, which established all of outer space as a global commons. The treaty reserves space for the good of mankind, and effectively prohibits private ownership of arbitrary parcels of empty space. It has been ratified by 102 countries, including all the major space-faring nations. The International Moon Treaty was finalised in 1979 and entered into force in 1984. It forbids private ownership of lunar real estate. However, to date only 15 states have ratified the agreement, and none of these are major space-faring nations.

So, in answer to the question ‘Who owns the Moon’, the answer is: probably no one. The United States and Russia (the Soviet Union’s primary successor state) own the equipment left on the Moon, but – according to the Outer Space and Moon treaties – they have no claim to the territories on which they are located. Antarctic bases have similar status.

However, governments which have not signed the relevant treaties may dispute the UN’s authority in this matter. Similarly corporations and individuals have tried – and continue to try – to challenge this. There are significant commercial and military interests in space, even if the Moon’s military and industrial benefits to are still speculative.

Lower Earth orbit

Image: European Space Agency

Image: European Space Agency

Rather than “Who owns space?”, perhaps the question should be “Who controls space? Who is responsible for it and how shall we be held accountable?”

Of course, space includes all the cosmos, our solar system and the Moon, but I want to focus on the space in which most of our space activities actually take place – Lower Earth Orbit. Despite the fantasies of the first space age, and the excitement generated by the recent achievements of Hubble, the Mars probes and Cassini-Huygens, our space age today for the most part now extends no more than 300 miles or so above our heads to the zone of satellites and space stations.

Near earth space has become ordinary, no longer remote, actively contested, and polluted. Space is in every part of our everyday lives. GPS, weather forecasting and satellite telecommunications bring space into work, education, leisure and healthcare. Commercially and militarily, there is a vast amount at stake in terms of access to and control over Earth orbit.

If all that were not enough of a challenge, the orbits of debris that space activities have left around our Earth and the prospect of a nuclear future in space are also issues that need to be constantly addressed.

The Bogotá Declaration, 1976

A space ownership issue of current practical importance is the allocation of slots for satellites in geostationary orbit. A geostationary orbit is where satellites orbit the earth above the equator, such that they appear stationary from the earth. The geostationary orbit is itself made up mainly of communications satellites, which have revolutionized communications and which, of course, have important defense and intelligence applications.

Naturally, early on the United States and the Soviet Union occupied the most valuable and coveted spots in geostationary orbit, leaving latecomers to bear the cost of less favourable positions. In 1976, eight equatorial countries – Brazil, Colombia, Congo, Equador, Indonesia, Kenya, Uganda and Zaire – claimed sovereignty over the geostationary orbit, in the Bogotá Declaration, drawing attention to the inequity of orbital allocations and attempting to assert sovereignty over those portions of the geosynchronous orbit that continuously lie over the signatory nation’s territory.

The issue has never been ratified, though it has been debated on several occasions since within the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

The Bogota Declaration, image by Joanna Griffin & students from Srishti School of Art & Design, Bangalore, India

The Bogota Declaration, image by Joanna Griffin & students from Srishti School of Art & Design, Bangalore, India

The Bogotá Declaration was the subject of a project by artists Alejo Duque and Joanna Griffin exploring the poetics of the declaration as well as the “inequalities in technological power, the physics of orbit and its contested spaces”.

The artists’ intention was to develop a new manifesto based on the Bogota Declaration. They wanted to try to discover what the geostationary orbit can mean to us and define our own protests, rituals and love songs in relation to it. The artists suggest that geostationary orbit, if it is thought of as an architecture, as a part of the human-made built environment, can be likened to the compelling circles of prehistory, such as Stonehenge in UK and those in Senegambia. They were struck by the poetry of the Bogota Declaration: its fervour in challenging the great powers, and at the same time its description of the extraordinary architecture of this necklace-like ring of satellites encircling the Earth.

Duque and Griffin’s project was collaborative and open to participation through the network of a wiki and the networks that emerged through the acts of making work. The aim was to build up a common voice and stand that could raise awareness of this orbit, its political complexities and its poetics. The project comprised writing, drawing, experimental music and events, exchanged online, on the ground and through space.

Listening from space

Trevor Paglen, They Watch the Moon

Trevor Paglen, They Watch the Moon, 2010

Artist Trevor Paglen uses specialized equipment to document carefully researched sites of secret government activity, and in two series of works he has drawn attention to military intelligence activities in lower Earth orbit. In his photographic series Limit-Telephotography, he uses high-powered astronomical telescopes to capture classified military bases and installations that are sited in some of the remotest parts of the United States andbuffered by dozens of miles of restricted land.

His photograph They Watch the Moon is of Sugar Grove, an NSA “listening station” in West Virginia. Sugar Grove listening station is part of the ECHELON classified and automated network of ground stations, developed to intercept and relay data communications. The station is located at the centre of the “National Radio Quiet Zone” in West Virginia and Maryland, within which radio transmissions are severely restricted. The listening station was designed in part to take advantage of a phenomenon called “moonbounce.” Moonbounce involves capturing communications and telemetry signals from around the world as they escape into space, hit the moon, and bounce back towards Earth.

revor Paglen, KEYHOLE IMPROVED CRYSTAL from Glacier Point (Optical Reconnaisance Satellite, USA 186), 2008

Trevor Paglen, KEYHOLE IMPROVED CRYSTAL from Glacier Point (Optical Reconnaisance Satellite, USA 186), 2008

 In The Other Night Sky, Paglen employed sophisticated telescopic equipment to track and photograph nearly two hundred classified American spacecraft orbiting the earth, using long exposure to show the bright arcs of satellite paths.  The artist used data compiled by amateur astronomer Ted Molczan to predict where a given “black satellite” will be in the sky, and was assisted by a global network of amateur satellite watchers. While the US government continues to espouse the virtues of secrecy, it isn’t able to prevent amateur astronomers from calculating the orbital paths of spy satellites or artists from drawing our attention to the space-based tools of military intelligence.

Artists’ satellites

Trevor Paglen, The Last Pictures, 2012

Trevor Paglen, The Last Pictures, 2012

Paglen is also part of a new wave of artists attempting to place art into lower Earth orbit. Commissioned by Creative Time, Paglen’s The Last Pictures is a project to mark a satellite with a record of our historical moment. For nearly five years, Paglen interviewed scientists, artists, anthropologists and philosophers to consider what such a cultural mark should be. He worked with MIT materials scientists to develop an archival disk of images capable of lasting in space for billions of years. Last year, the television satellite EchoStar XVI took off from Kazakhstan with the disc attached, and entered a geostationary orbit. When it nears the end of its useful life – in about 15 years – it will use the last of its fuel to enter a slightly higher graveyard orbit, where it will power down and die. The Last Pictures will continue to circle Earth until the Earth is no more.

This year, an artist-built satellite was also launched, again from Baikonaur Cosmodrome. Korean artist Hojun Song’s OSSI (Open Source Satellite Initiative) is intended to show how individuals and amateur groups can make their own connection with space in a direct and practical sense, and provide open source tools to do so.

Meanwhile, the Mexican Space Collective – a group of artists based in Mexico City and working with the Laboratorio Arte Alameda – are also planning their own satellite, to be launched from Tonga Spaceport.

Constructing our own space future

We Colonised the Moon, photograph taken at the Teotihuacan Pyramids for Kosmica Mexico 2012

We Colonised the Moon, photograph taken at the Teotihuacan Pyramids for Kosmica Mexico 2012

If space ‘belongs’ to all humanity (albeit not in the property sense), how do we all take ‘ownership’ – and hence responsibility – for it? How do we make our own space futures, that are not entirely dependent upon and controlled by the existing international and national space agencies and major corporations and governments?

In particular, how do those countries that are not already represented in a significant way in space, take their place as the shared beneficiaries (culturally, technologically and economically) and trustees of this global commons?

A new collaborative programme between the University of Texas (El Paso and Dallas), The Arts Catalyst and Laboratorio Arte Alameda intends to address these questions. It sets out to ask how the space imaginary – which has become synonymous with the ‘great’ national and international projects of Apollo, the ISS, space probes, Mars Landers and Hubble, and the images produced by the major space agencies – become rather an expansion of our contemporary social imaginary?

Through this programme, we want to work with artists who engage in disruptive, alternative and collective interactions with space and space technology, who create technological and imaginative alternatives for space occupation, and who reappropriate the technologies of space and the data from space, in a way that connects people to new bodies of knowledge and new ways of relating. We are particularly interested in drawing on projects by artists and collectives from Latin America, and ultimately from the countries of Africa and other non-traditional space nations, that respond to the imperative to develop and reflect an alternative poetic and political relationship with space.

In my presentation to the UN COPUOS, I suggested that a new philosophy and vision for space was perhaps overdue, one relevant for the 21st century and a changing world of power relations and environmental and economic challenges. At this time in human civilisation, when we are so dependent on science and technology, and at the same time when our technologised and industrial world presents many challenges for a sustainable future, I believe activities and developments in outer space should be considered from different cultural perspectives – not only those of the established space powers, and not just those of scientists and politicians. The future of space needs a societal and cultural dialogue, in which people from many countries and many disciplines can take part.

Lunar dreamers: occupy the moon!

Leonid Tishkov, Private Moon

In Tony White’s new short story, Occupy the Moon, commissioned by The Arts Catalyst to mark the opening of our latest exhibition, Republic of the Moon, at FACT in Liverpool, the author contemplates a remonstration against privatisation of the moon, and reflects on “the importance of wit and play in exploration”.

For Republic of the Moon, we invited a number of international artists to create and show works reimagining our relationship with the moon in a new era of aspirations to return humans to the moon.

Liliane Lijn, Moonmeme

Liliane Lijn’s Moonmeme tracks the moon’s phase, with the letters S-H-E projected on its surface. During the run of the show, as the moon’s phase changes, the word will transform according to the relative motions of Moon, Earth and Sun. Lijn’s work references the many female lunar deities through history, and reminds us that it was twelve men who walked on the moon (our forthcoming Kosmica in Liverpool has all-female line-up).

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Moon Goose Analogue, 2011

In a major new commission, Agnes Meyer-Brandis’ ambitious, enchanting Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Birds Migration Facility connects us to eleven future astronauts: Neil, Svetlana, Gonzales, Valentina, Friede, Juri, Buzz, Kaguya-Anousheh, Irena, Rakesh and Konstantin-Hermann. These are specially trained “moon geese”, destined to fly to the moon. We meet them via a large complex, control room live-linked to cameras in the geese’s “moon analogue”, a mock lunar landscape and lunar capsule control room set up on the farm in Italy where the birds live. Through captivating film, photographs and installations, the birds’ life story and mission unfolds.

Meyer-Brandis’ piece is inspired by a science fiction story by the 17th century English bishop Francis Godwin, “The Man in the Moone”, about a man who flew to the moon on a chariot pulled by trained geese. Can this tale be real and can it be made in the present day?, wondered Meyer-Brandis. She sourced the eggs of a rare breed of geese from a specialist breeder, incubated them, and imprinted herself on the eleven goslings that hatched as their ‘mother’ and devoted herself completely to them, living with them day and night (even a trip to the toilet by their “mum” triggered much distressed honking), and training them to walk, swim and fly, as well as giving them lessons on space travel. The healthy, well-bonded geese now live in their moon facility in Pollinaria, Italy, awaiting their mission to the moon – or at least expanding their colony. There is an interview with the artist about this work in the Liverpool Daily Post.

Leonid Tishkov, Private Moon

Leonid Tishkov’s charming and luminous photographs, poetry and video work are from his ongoing Private Moon project, a visual poem that tells the story of a man who met the Moon and stayed with her for the rest of his life. Tishkov and his glowing moon have travelled his native Russia and the world together for almost ten years and he dreams of flying with her to the Moon:

“In the upper world, in the attic of his house, he saw the Moon which had fallen from the sky. At first she was hiding from the sun in a dark, damp tunnel and was constantly frightened by the passing trains. Then she came to the house of the man. Wrapping the moon in a thick blanket, he gives her autumn apples and drinks tea with her. When she finally recovers he puts her on a boat and carries her across a dark river to a high bank, where moon pine-trees grow. He descends to the lower world wearing the clothes of his deceased father and then returns, illuminating the way with his private moon. Transcending the borders between worlds via narrow bridges, sinking into sleep, taking care of the heavenly body, man turns into a mythological being living in the real world like in a fantastic fairy-tale.” – Tishkov

The artist keeps his own Private Moon blog which he updates with poetry and images about his travels with his moon.

In Sharon Houkema’s installation M3, the artist uses a simple overhead projector and a bucket of water to conjure a shimmering moon, as if seen through water or hazy cloud.

Andy Gracie, The Quest for Drosophila Titanus

Andy Gracie’s ambitious DIY-astrobiology experiment, an attempt to breed a strain of fruit fly that could survive on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is documented in The Quest for Drosophila Titanus. Gracie discussed his process with New Scientist, and the broader ideas he is exploring in the work. He explained his aim to set up “a metaphorical, speculative artistic project by following a completely rigorously scientific process”. As well, his experiment raises questions about what we will consider to be the “right stuff” for future star travellers.

We Colonised the Moon, Enter at Own Risk. Photo: Drew Hemment

Artist duo We Colonised the Moon’s work Enter At Own Risk is an installation and performance piece, with a slightly sinister Apollo astronaut working away spraying rocks with a specially synthesised smell of the moon, commissioned by the artists Hagen Betzwieser and Sue Corke from industrial chemists. Astronaut Charlie Duke likened the smell of the moon to gunpowder (although I prefer cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev’s description of the smell of space which he said “smelled like two stones being struck together”).

At the artists’ breakfast event yesterday morning, attended by all the artists (with the sole exception of Houkema), American-born Lijn and Russian-born Tishkov called for the artists to issue a manifesto on the future of the moon, reclaiming it from the aspirations of privatisers or the military, since the major space-faring nations – including the US, UK, EU, Russia, China, Japan and India – have so far refused to sign up to the UN’s protective Moon Treaty.

This may be a ‘romantic’ exhibition, as a member of audience said, but as all the artists said without hesitation that they would travel to the moon given the opportunity, this is a romantic imaginary that embraces space technology and exploration.

‘Republic of the Moon’ runs until 26 February at FACT, Liverpool. Commissioned and curated by The Arts Catalyst and FACT.

Republic of the Moon opens in Liverpool 16 December

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, We Colonised the Moon, Andy Gracie, Leonid Tishkov, Liliane Lijn, Sharon Houkema

FACT, Wood Street, Liverpool
16 December 2011 – 26 February 2012
Open daily (except 24-26 December). Admission free.

As the players in the new 21st century race for the Moon line up – the USA rejoining China, India and Russia and jostling with private corporations interested in exploiting the Moon’s resources – a group of artists are declaring a Republic of the Moon: a ‘micronation’ for alternative visions of lunar life.

The Arts Catalyst and FACT’s new exhibition ‘Republic of the Moon’ challenges utilitarian plans of lunar mines and military bases with artists’ imaginings and interventions. Combining beguiling fantasies, personal encounters, and playful appropriations of space habitats and scientific technologies, Republic of the Moon reclaims the Moon for artists, idealists, and dreamers.

The last race to the Moon was driven by the political impulses of the Cold War, but shaped by extraordinary visions of space created by writers, film-makers, and artists, from Jules Verne, Lucien Rudaux, and Vasily Levshin, to HG Wells, Stanislav Lem and Stanley Kubrick. Can artists’ quixotic visions reconcile our romantic notions of the Moon with its colonised future, and help us to reimagine our relationship with our natural satellite in the new space age?

Curated by The Arts Catalyst and FACT, Republic of the Moon includes major new commissions by Agnes Meyer-Brandis and We Colonised the Moon, and works by Leonid Tishkov, Andy Gracie, Liliane Lijn and Sharon Houkema.

Exhibition webpage

Breakfast with the artists and curators
Friday 16 December, 10.30-12noon, The Box, FACT, Liverpool
Artists Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Leonid Tishkov and Andy Gracie discuss their work with curator Rob La Frenais and FACT’s Mike Stubbs.


man on top of an urban building at  night with his Personal Moon by Leonid Tishkov  portraits of the eleven Moon Geese with their astronaut inspired names  photograph of the projection of the word SHE on the Moon by Liliane Lijnphoto of two Drosophila Titanus flies in front of the moon  artist out on a lake with his private moon, Leonid Tishkov  seated astronaut

Top: Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Moon Goose Experiment, 2010

Bottom (L-R, top to bottom): Leonard Tishkov, Personal Moon, Agnes Meyer-Brandis, Moon Goose Experiment, Liliane Lijn, moonmeme, Andy Gracie, The Quest for Drosophila Titanus, Leonard Tishkov, Personal Moon, We Colonised the Moon, Enter At Own Risk (prototypes & experiments)

Realities and dreams: Africa in space

A stunning and detailed black and white image of Africa from space

Mosaic of high-res images of Africa captured by Canada's RADARSAT-1 satellite

Today is the last day of the 62nd International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Cape Town, South Africa. The IAC is a vast annual meeting of the space world, organized by the International Astronautical Federation, attended by the heads and senior executives of the world’s space agencies, astronomers, space lawyers, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and astronauts. This is the first time it has taken place in an African country.

What is the relevance of space exploration to African countries? African astronomy has a long history, as explored in the excellent documentary Cosmic Africa, made in 2003 with South African astronomer Thebe Medupe. South Africa has been involved in a limited way in space activities since the 1960s. Today, several African nations are emerging as participants in the space technology race. Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria and Egypt have launched their own satellites. A few years ago, Nigeria announced an intention to send the first Nigerian astronaut into space. South Africa already has its own astronaut, Mark Shuttleworth, the second self-funded space `’tourist`’. South Africa is also competing with Australia to host the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), the world’s largest radiotelescope.

Bright projection of a globe apparently onto a transparent screen or floating, behind which a man and woman are seen

Alejo Duque & Joanna Griffin: Bogota Declaration

Economic benefits are obviously the driving force for space technology development in Africa. But there are cultural and political issues around the management and exploitation of space, in which African people should have a voice. The contentious issue of geostationary orbits is one example. A geostationary orbit is where satellites orbit the earth above the equator, such that they appear to be stationary from the earth. Geostationary satellites have revolutionised global communications, and have important defense and intelligence applications. Naturally, early on the United States and the Soviet Union occupied the most valuable and coveted spots in geostationary orbit. In 1976, eight equatorial countries, including Kenya, Congo and Uganda, claimed sovereignty over the geostationary orbit, in the Bogotá Declaration, drawing attention to the inequity of orbital allocations. The Bogotá Declaration is the subject of a project by artists Alejo Duque and Joanna Griffin exploring the poetics of the declaration as well as the “inequalities in technological power, the physics of orbit and its contested spaces”.

The goal of the International Astronautical Federation’s technical activities committee on the cultural utilization of space (ITACCUS), of which I’m co-chair, is to promote a self-reflective space culture that promotes the peaceful use of space. It would be great to see African artists develop a cultural response to the new space drive as it develops. We welcome nominations for new ITACCUS members from African countries who can be liaisons to both African space and cultural organisations.

Picture of installation of paintings and sculpture depicting space themes merging contemporary and traditional Burkina Faso art styles

Work by Marco Boggio Sella and unnamed artist/s from Burkino Faso in the exhibition: Dreams and Nightmares of the African Astronauts

Man standing in desert looking at ancient arrangement of stones on the ground

Calendar circle in the Sahara desert visited by Thebe Medupe in Cosmic Africa

Power in outer space

Yesterday, I was one of the speakers at the Power in Outer Space symposium at the University of Brighton. The aim of the symposium was to provide a forum to discuss issues about social power and outer space.

Archive black and white photo of a rocket on a launch scaffolding

Soviet/Russian Buran reusable spacecraft project

The Arts Catalyst has been working on space-related artists’ project for 12 years. One thing that has struck me over the years is how under-examined and critiqued space exploration is across the social sciences and humanities, although there have been some welcome developments in recent years, such as Fraser MacDonald’s 2007 paper “Anti-Astropolitik – outer space and the orbit of geography“, and Peter Dickens and James Ormrod’s 2007 book ‘Cosmic Society: Towards a Sociology of the Universe’.

So this symposium was a welcome development, although it perhaps wasn’t a huge surprise that it wasn’t well attended on the hottest October day on record, because this area hasn’t exactly picked up a big following. But I was particularly glad to see an undergraduate attending clutching a big tome on feminism.

The other speakers were excellent and included convener James Ormrod and Prof Peter Dickens, authors of Cosmic Society, Dr Jill Stuart, an expert in space law from the London School of Economics, and Prof Dave Webb from the Praxis Centre at Leeds Metropolitan University. Topics explored included the use of outer space to control warfare on Earth, the monitoring of social groups through space technology, the commodification of space resources, the control of outer space by nation states, and the risk posed by nuclear space technologies and space debris.

My own paper on “’The Cultural Utilisation of Space” considered the contribution of the alternative perspectives and re-imaginings of artists to developing a new cultural and societal dialogue about space, and explored the activities of contemporary artists working towards the appropriation and conversion of space activities and technologies for civilian and cultural use. I examined our own strategic initiatives, such as the forming of the International Astronautical Federation’s Technical Activities Committee on Cultural Utilisation of Space, and I talked about our work with the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, Russia, the European Space Agency, and, of course, the exhibitions and events we have organised to bring our work to a wide public, such as Space Soon at the Roundhouse and our forthcoming Republic of the Moon.

Sunset. A line of white geese follow a woman carrying a large moon slung on a stick over her shoulder

Agnes Meyer Brandis, Moon Goose Analogue (2011)


Handy tips for the new nuclear age (3)

James Acord, Tattoo

Make your own plutonium

Our Nuclear Forum at the RSA, part of our final weekend for the Nuclear: art & radioactivity exhibition, saw the return of the inimitable James Acord, the “nuclear sculptor”, to the UK after 10 years and, as always, winning everyone over with his extraordinary storytelling – and his astonishing story. Acord is the world’s only known individual to possess a radioactive materials license. And among his peer corporate license holders, he is probably the only Radiation Safety Officer to have the license number tattooed on the back of his neck (Washington State Radioactive Materials License # WN-10407-1). For 15 years, Acord lived on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, where he tried to persuade the authorities to allow him access to the Fast Flux Test Facility to transmute radioactive technesium into shiny non-radioactive ruthenium, and pursued his ambition to build a vast warning marker sculpture on the most contaminated part of Hanford. Acord left Hanford in 1998, after his residency at Imperial College London, which was organised by The Arts Catalyst, and his part in the Atomic exhibition.  Since then he has been living in Seattle.  We were all fascinated to hear that far from shelving his his alchemist’s dreams, he is making plutonium in his studio.We are planning to podcast recordings of the forum, at which artists, writers and experts discuss their work and engagement with the issues around nuclear energy. The day ended with a moving talk by Gustav Metzger, who called for an end to our pursuit of extremes.

James Acord, Home Plutonium Progenitor

Handy tips for the new nuclear age (1)

Chris Oakley, Half Life (still), 2008. Commissioned by The Arts Catalyst

With the UK government’s new commitment to nuclear energy, let’s re-visit some of those old recurring debates around clean energy, safety, costs, proliferation and waste in today’s world of climate change … Then again, do we really want to involve ourselves in polarised shouting matches, where facts seem as elusive as consensus? Perhaps there are ways of approaching this from fresh perspectives. Or we could just go to an East London art opening instead and have a nice glass of wine.

Ten years after our Atomic exhibition, The Arts Catalyst returns to the theme of nuclear power with an exhibition of new commissions by Simon Hollington & Kypros Kyprianou, and Chris Oakley. Chris Oakley’s new film ‘Half-life’ looks at the histories of Harwell, birthplace of the UK nuclear industry, and the new development of fusion energy technology. The film examines nuclear science research through a historical and cultural filter. Simon Hollington & Kypros Kyprianou’s installation, ‘The Nightwatchman’, is the outcome of their residency with the British Atomic Nuclear Group (BANG). It merges changing perceptions of the nuclear power industry over its 50 year history into a single immersive narrative environment.

The exhibition is commissioned and produced by The Arts Catalyst with SCAN, and will be at the Nicholls and Clarke Building in Shoreditch High Street, East London (opening Thu 13 November and then open 14 – 16, 20 – 23, 27 – 30 November 2008.

Two discussion events will accompany the exhibition – a ‘Nuclear Talkaoke’ with The People Speak on Friday 14 November and a Nuclear Forum with the RSA Art & Ecology on Friday 28 November. A

So, in the spirit of Nuclear, here is the first of our ‘Handy Tips for the New Nuclear Age': How to Survive a Terrorist Nuclear Attack:

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