It was great to see some positive news this week, with the successful SpaceX mission launching Falcon 9 launching into space. The 2020 space mission has been repeatedly described as a “new era in human spaceflight” and an “important step on our path to expand human exploration to the Moon and Mars.” I must be honest though when I tell you the most awe inspiring and jaw-dropping fact for me was that their very special cargo included original art!
After my initial surprise it dawned on me that art is a really important space cargo item. When thinking about it, it’s obvious humans are naturally art making creatures. Where languages and dialect can’t be interpreted we instinctively refer to more universal symbols, imagery, sounds and creative mediums. Art is part of our life as humans and so when we begin to fly humanity into space it makes sense to take our art with us!
It was the first time in history that US astronauts have launched from American soil in a commercially built and operated spacecraft. Known as SpaceX Crew Dragon, the spacecraft is on its way to the International Space Station with two astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.
According to NASA the SpaceX Crew Dragon astronauts have a clear mission. This is a test flight intended to validate the special SpaceX crew transportation system, including the spacecraft launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations. While it is SpaceX’s second spaceflight test of its Dragon spacecraft, it is the first with astronauts on board which should pave the way for its future certification for regular crew flights to the Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. With such a scientific mission ahead it is wonderful and heartwarming for the arts and culture lovers of the world to know that the crew have taken two original pieces of art. As it turns out, the worlds of science and art do collide… in space!
The first artwork is a diptych piece made by Tristan Eaton, a well-known American street artist from Los Angeles. He began creating street art during his late teens, and as his career progressed his art become part of the MOMA’s permanent collection, and is now immortalised in space. The artwork currently in-orbit, titled “Human Kind”, is made of gold, brass and aluminum. These materials are intended to signify how far the space program has come and how far humanity has to go in exploring the cosmos. He also intended the art to be indestructible by using these particular heavy metals.
“I wanted to make something inspirational. Looking down from space to see all of Human Kind together on this tiny planet might remind you how much history and potential we have. Yet we have so much further to go,” Tristan Eaton explained on social media just hours before lift off.
“With kindness, hope and science, Human Kind has changed the world many times over. For a better future, we can do it again,” he said. Each plate fits into its own protective sleeve (dated “5.27.20”) with a front pocket holding the artist’s statement, a printed card with a greeting for the astronauts:
“Welcome to space! Thank you for taking time to view these works I created for this expedition. Your courage and dedication is an inspiration to all of us down here on Earth. I imagine every astronaut takes a moment to digest the history and glory of where you are and what you are doing for humankind.”
The second artwork taken into space is a mosaic of more than 100,000 photographs of 2020 university graduates from all over the world, arranged within the composite image to create an image of planet Earth.
View the individual graduate photos in the mosaic here on the SpaceX site: https://www.spacex.com/classof2020/index.html
This isn’t the first time art has ventured into space. Belgian artist Paul van Hoeydonck made an agreement with Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott, who transported a 7.5cm miniature sculpture made out of aluminum titled “Fallen Astronaut” to the moon in 1971. It is on the moon positioned next to a plaque listing the names of fourteen American and Soviet astronauts who had previously died during the early years of the space race. It’s a symbolic message representing the sacrifices and challenges of those scientific space pioneers.
Again in 2014 Japanese artist Makoto Azuma took his floral art practice into outer space for 2 hours, and in 2018 a project was launched with SpaceX positioning 3 sculptures into space which are still currently in orbit right now.
There is also a legend that Andy Warhol, John Chamberlain, David Novros, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg etched miniature artworks onto ceramic tiles created by artist Forrest Myers in 1969. It is alleged that these tiles were onboard Apollo 12 when it became the second spacecraft to land on the moon, however it seems this was more than likely just a creative joke.
On first glance art and science seem to be such polar opposites in the minds of humankind, however in actual fact they are both key aspects of the human experience. It is such a shame that art and science don’t work hand-in-hand more often. Perhaps with more commercial space missions sure to launch in the future, different experiences and mindsets are bound to bring the two closer together. Who knows, one day soon KAB Gallery may be selling a range of zero-gravity artworks created in deep space!