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.
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.