Columbus Theatre in Kerkrade: the place to experience ‘The Overview Effect’

The blue Marble (Credit: NASA).

About three years ago I had the opportunity to start an informal collaboration with Frank White, co-founder of ‘The Overview Institute’ and author of ‘The Overview Effect’, a book that has been recently published in its second edition and that in my opinion should be read in schools. The book describes the long lasting effect produced by the sight of the Earth seen from Space on the mind of the astronauts. It is well documented that watching our planet from a great distance generates a deeper awareness of Earth’s globality, with its geographical, political and social boundaries disappearing. It is no surprise that the iconic ‘Blue Marble’ image, taken during the last manned mission to the Moon in 1972, helped changing the perception of our planet, becoming a symbol for the ecological movement in the seventies. The ‘Blue Marble’ picture is part of a series of images of Earth seen from Space taken during manned Space explorations.

Photo of Edgar Mitchell: credits NASA, courtesy of Retro Space Images.

Talking about the first photo of the Earth taken from the Moon’s orbit in 1966, Jay Friedlander, a NASA photographic technician said “You’re looking at your home from this really foreign kind of desolate landscape…It’s the first time you’re actually looking at Earth as a different kind of place” We’re on this little Earth. We’re only part of some grand solar system in some big galaxy and universe. That’s why this picture is important, because this was the first time that anyone on Earth got this sense”. ( Nearly all astronauts who have experienced seeing the Earth from outer space report a lasting globalization of awareness concerning environmental, political and social issues. Astronaut Gerald Carr has said, “Most of us come back with an interest in ecology. You came back feeling a little more humanitarian”. “I’m sure this is a commonly related thing”, said Mark Garneau, “you become more of a global citizen.” Edgar Mitchell, who dedicated part of his life to the study of spirituality, as a result of his experience as an astronaut, and who sadly died last night, sums it up quite powerfully: “We went to the Moon as technicians. We returned as humanitarians.

View morning in Australia from the ISS: credits Scott Kelly (NASA).

A few days ago I went to visit the Columbus Theatre which opened very recently in Kerkrade in The Netherlands. The long journey was well worth the visit. It is one of the few places in the world at the moment that offers an experience as close as possible to that of the Overview Effect. After watching an educational video in a Star Trek replica room, equipped with state of the art screens, I was accompanied into a huge circular room, caved in the middle and I was invited to stand against a glass balustrade looking into the void of the deep hole. Lights switched off and the immersive video started: cleverly projected into the void, the video gives the strong feeling of floating above Earth and watching our planet from the cupola of the International Space Station, it is a very close experience to that of embodying the privileged position of the astronaut inside the station, while looking outside at the Earth. Our planet is portrayed in all its beauty and precious life, leaving the viewer in awe by the end of the projection.

Impression of the Columbus Earth theatre in Kerkrade (credit: Columbus Earth theatre).

The building hosting the Columbus Theatre was first envisioned in 2012 and was opened to the public very recently, with a launch event featuring Frank White himself talking about ‘The Overview Effect’. Besides the Columbus Theatre, the Museum offers a very interesting exhibit of interactive scientific  installations for experiencing first hand the latest development in technology, robotics and biology. A ride well worth the time. For planning your visit to the Columbus Theatre please visit the website:

IAC2015 Jerusalem: an interview with Juan Jose Diaz Infante

Van 12 tot en met 16 oktober 2015 werd in Jeruzalem (Israël) het 66e International Astronautical Congress (IAC2015) gehouden. Astroblogger Daniela de Paulis was daar bij. Eerder was zij op het 63e IAC congres geweest, dat in 2012 in Napels werd gehouden – hier haar verslag daarover. In Jeruzalem heeft Daniela met diverse mensen voor de Astroblogs interviews gehouden, waarvan het interview hieronder met de Mexicaan Juan Jose Diaz Infante het eerste vormt, de kunstenaar die beroemd is geworden met zijn Ulises I ruimteproject. Komende weken zal Daniela meerdere interviews op de Astroblogs plaatsen. In 2016 zal het 67e IAC congres gehouden worden in Guadalajara, Mexico.

De Mexicaanse kunstenaar Juan José Dá­az Infante.

DdP: I have just returned from the International Astronautical Congress 2015, held in Jerusalem, Israel. It has been a very hectic week during which I met some very interesting artists working with Space. Every week for the next month or so, I will be posting an interview with the artists that I think are developing some great projects in this field of research. This week our guest is Juan Jose Dá­az Infante, who in 2010 started thinking of the possibility of sending a satellite into Space with an artistic and social message. During your presentation I was really inspired by how you managed to bring together so many people to work on your artistic idea, creating a sort of Space agency. How did all start and eventually develop?

JJDI: MY POLAROID First we have to create a polaroid of the present, the last 5 yearsMexico going into a drugs wars, 100, 000 killed USA provokes a world crisis through the mortgage fraud Greece going bankrupt Spain with 25% unemploymentNot one major guilty person of this situation is in jail, we do not save people, we prefer to save the money, banks are saved instead of countriesMY CRISIS, capacity of observation, passion and compassionIt started as a middle age crisis. The future was not here, mi future was not here. -we all should have constructive middle age crisis- On the other hand I have seen my country deteriorate badly into a zone of violence an insecurity. A politician that is unable to handle wealth in silver and oil, a person only interested in preserving power can not arrive to space. The World is in crisis, Greece, Spain, Italy. It is time to redesign the future. The decision was to do my own personal “space policy”. If a photographer can launch a satellite, reality can be changed. In order to be coherent with my polaroid world´s situation, It had to be developed in Mexico, not bought to Japan or developed in Japan. The future of us as world depends in making nations like Africa or Latin America to go into the future. It is a local and a universal paradigm, if it works for Mexico it works anywhere. That is why the “authorship” of the Ulises I is a collective, The Mexican Space Collective. If you do not know how to work in a team or be a team you are out of the zone, you do not reach space. This concept applies to the world community, cooperation instead of competition. Space culture wisdom applied to world economics. The launching of a satellite is the correct thing to do as far as the capabilities and needs of México. Having satellites has to do with the preservation of the language, country´s security, safe communications, etc. Ulises I, a mission to space had to be a satellite. Our slogan “too much technology, very little imagination”. This very simple idea, a citizens idea, has grown into a group of over 75 people working, and 5 space missions in parallel

DdP: Why the idea of an art-satellite for Mexico, what is the social and artistic message you wish to convey with this project?

JJDI: YOU DO NOT INHERIT THE PRESENT FROM THE PAST YOU BORROW IT FROM THE FUTURE, Allegedly Sioux Chief SeattleTo choose a way of life is something that we struggle continuously. For me, any existence is about art, culture and poetry. Language. Contact with other civilization (alien or Earth bound) is a problem of good language on Earth, that is called poetry. (“They should have sent a poet quote from the movie Contact) In 1961, Huelsenbeck wrote his essay, “The agony of the artist” pointing out how our society is losing the sense of quality. A civilization without quality become insects. Through my life I have done several reflections, like how hard is to write a scientific paper in Japanese: I produced an exhibition called “Atoms, anything else is an opinion” the works of Sho Takahashià – Life is a collection of poetic actions.To launch an art-satellite from Mexico is a poetic action. Being in Mexico is also being standing on the World. We are in the building of the Mexican Sputnik.ARTISTIC IS SOCIALIn 1957 the sputnik was a trigger of the imagination. The space race was born of a very simple action. ONE BIPSPUTNIK at Wikipedia

This surprise 1957 success precipitated the American Sputnik crisis and triggered the Space Race, a part of the larger Cold War. The launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. Sputnik itself provided scientists with valuable information, even though it was not equipped with scientific instrument. The density of the upper atmosphere could be deduced from its dragon the orbit, and the propagation of its radio signals gave information about the ionosphere. Sputnik 1 was launched during the International Geophysical Year from Site No.1/5, at the 5thTyuratam range, in Kazakh SSR (now at the Baikonur Cosmodrome). The satellite travelled at about 29,000 kilometres per hour (18,000 mph; 8,100 m/s), taking 96.2 minutes to complete each orbit. It transmitted on 20.005 and 40.002 MHz which were monitored by amateur radiooperators throughout the world. The signals continued for 21 days until the transmitter batteries ran out on 26 October 1957. Sputnik 1 burned up on 4 January 1958, as it fell from orbit upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere, after travelling about 70 million km (43.5 million miles) and spending 3 months in orbit? (Wikipedia).We are duplicating the same action as a trigger of the imagination to provoke what we call “the other space race”. The collective is a citizen group of enthusiasts. Ulises I generates a BIP considered poetry instead of war. It is a non government statement , it is a presence of an underdeveloped country generating a statement “My government is underdeveloped, not us”. Ulises nationality becomes global.THERE IS A MISSION WITHIN A MISSIONUlises I is the first satellite built in Mexico with the capacity to fulfill its mission. It is modeled as the 1957 sputnik, it only needs a BIP. The idea is to become a trigger of the imaginary. BIP as a poem. The author “The Mexican Space Collective” a social organization (is not an inc, it is not an ONG, It is not a non profit). A group of individuals. Mission description

One of the scores of Ulises I

Haiku in lateral panel: The sphere (Teresa Bordona y Fernando Castro) Identification BIP and poem in morse code: Amo el camino / I love the path (JJ Dá­az Infante) Hello, shaking Telemetry recoded: Vacio, telemetry as sound (Hugo Solá­s) Sound work 1: For Ulises, musical score based on the fibonacci progression and the golden proportion (Omar Gasca, Ramsés Luna, Cabezas de Cera) Sound work 2: Music without principles, a chromatic scale of all the sounds our ear can listen to (Arturo Márquez)SOCIAL IS ARTISTICPioneer work Direct social impact in an underdeveloped country Do it yourself Citizen satellite 1st satellite made in Mexico Mission pattern of thought Transfer of Technology Transfer of philosophy Global discourse Making of teams Art and science School of Satellites Other missions Change of conversation (from the cybernetics point of view)

DdP: Sending a satellite into Space is a long term project, how do you plan and work towards the launch?

JJDI: Ulises I is a travel journal, where the process is the important subject to discussFlight manifest 1 Inter orbital Systems Fully paid Inter orbital systems is delayed in their launching schedule this will happen sooner or laterFlight manifest 2 Gauss / JAXAWe had 3 offers of sponsorship for this launchMexican Space Agency Centro de Cultura DIgital, CONACULTA Talento Cientá­fico y Tecnológico de MéxicoThe Mexican Space Agency and Centro de Cultura Digital at the moment of signing the contract last year the pulled back in their offers. CONACULTA and FONCA (Council for the Arts and the Arts Fund) none the less have given us some very partial support in the final testing. The Mexican Space Agency and Conacyt (Council for science and technology) have declared that they will not finance the launching of Ulises I. Talento Cientá­fico y Tecnológico de Mexico AC, a non profit foundation, finally signed the contract with Gauss, we ran into some very bumpy delays from the backers of TCYTM and we are reconstructing the contract, hoping that everything will come through in a few weeks. We are working hard on this process.

DdP: How was your project approached by the technicians and scientists? was it difficult to convince them to collaborate?

JJDI: We have had the support of the National Institute of Astrophysics Optics and Electronics, through the Dr. Celso Gutiérrez and his team. They have been in charge of the integration of systems, trials and testing, Earth base. We have had the support of the LINX, Laboratory of space instrumentation at the Institute of Nuclear Sciences at the UNAM National University, through the Dr. Gustavo Medina Tanco and his team. Vacuum and temperature testing, Suborbital testing. Also the preliminary design was done at the Multimedia Center at the Centro Nacional de las Artes.

DdP: When will the satellite be launched and how long will it transmit the signals for?

JJDI: We are hoping it will be soon within the next 8 months the mission will last 4 months Ulises will be over Mexican territory 3 times a day for periods of 10 minutes It will transmit at 436.7 Mghz Amateur satellite band

DdP: I can imagine this project changed your working method in a way. Is that the case?

JJDI: I learnedMission: A problem of language; formal language If you want to get to space: Work with people that can be a team, geniuses are worthless if they do not work with others If you want a dialog between science and art, the hierarchy can not be “the economy” cooperation instead of competition Passion, essential to do anything Politicians should not be in space Space is very important

DdP: Anything else you would like to add about your project which we didn’t ask?

The Voyager golden disc.

JJDI: Recent speech at ISEA in Sidney, Australia, speaking of an art project resembling the Voyager Golden DiscHello 101 My name is Juan Diaz infante I am from Earth and I come in peace We need to rehearse that action I come in peaceI am very happy to be here, this is my first time in Australia, and for me Australia is a place that is very very far, and I am very happy that Willoh and her team have invited me over to be present at this event. I am very interested in seeking and trying to work out somehow a collaboration among two places that are so distant like Australia and Mexico. Two languages, two cultures, two colonies…It is an exercise if we ever find intelligent life in a different planet that we learn how to deal with distant relationships. Why, if we find intelligent life in our own planet we do not know how to deal with our own intelligent life, here you have some cosmic Freud…Australia is far, space is farther. This project is about reaching the hand of an alien form. We are sending signals in the hope we are not alone. And Carl Sagan used to say our thinking about life in space has to be very clear. There is the possibility of alien life, it is common sense to think that it is possible, but if by any chance we happen to be the first ones, we are the seed of life in the universe (!), that is even something bigger to think about. So, keep up with me, by one side, it even sounds better to think we are not the seed, too much responsability, so it is better thinking reaching for another life, we need someone else to blame for whatever happens to the universe. Or there is another path, lets grow up, let us become cosmic adults. Doing so, we can think really big, actually becoming responsible for life. We need to give testimony of mankind, not feeling as an inferior and crazy race, but as what we are, life a very strange phenomenon in the universe and reflect upon the miracle of what it means to be alive, LIFE! This project becomes of a different dimension when we see it under this filter. Let’s celebrate the phenomenon of matter or energy among empty space. Lets celebrate that we understand gravity in a minimal way. Lets celebrate LIFE Art is an act of freedom, to travel to space is an act of freedom. the future is to understand that we have to plant the dream in future generations, so one day we ensure that our future children will build starships and they are willing to travel to the stars.

DdP: Thank you Juan!

A review of the Sonic Acts Festival 2015 [Update]

It’s Sonic Acts time. Every year the art, music, science festival in Amsterdam comes back with a rich programme, featuring concerts, talks, and a great atmosphere. The topic around which everything rotates in this year’s edition, is ‘The Geologic Imagination’, with the ‘Anthropocene’ as the main focus for the scientific and artistic debate. Although the term has already been used at least as early as the 1960s, in 2008, a group of scientists proposed to the Geological Society of London to use the term for indicating the current geological era, marked by the radical human effects on the Earth’s landscape and life cycle. A paper published in January 2015, proposed the 16 July 1945 as the exact date for the start of this new geological epoch.

Paul Bogard about the disappearance of the night sky (credit: Filippo Lorenzin).

The festival tries to address the topic of Anthropocene from different perspectives, such as the human electromagnetic impact, which results in electromagnetic polluted environments, with great social and physiological consequences. The film Quiet Zone, shown as part of the festival, addresses this topic by narrating the story of a woman in the US forced to move from area to area to avoid highly charged electromagnetic environments which cause great distress to her physiological well being.

Still from ‘Quiet Zone’ (credit: Karl Lemieux)

The disappearance of the night sky in most populated areas on Earth is another consequence of such pollution, with which, it seems we are now so accustomed. Starry night skies, which were the norm until fifty years ago, are now experienced only by a handful of people living in remote areas, not affected by light pollution. Paul Bogard, one of the conference speakers, explains the disappearance of the night sky, based on his book The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light (2013), which perhaps many astrophotographers following our blog know by heart already.

Electromagnetic pollution however is an interesting instrument of cultural enquiry for the artists who attempt to make the invisible electromagnetic spectrum visible by mean of light and sound installations and performances. The history of this experimental art practice has been traced by historian Douglas Kahn in his recent book Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies and Earth Magnitude in the Arts and his presentation is one of the highlights of the festival. Globalization of cities and the super scale of infrastructures, production, data centres, is the topic of a fascinating presentation by British architect Liam Young, who take us on a dystopian journey across the two dimensional allure of the Internet visual culture.

Model of acoustic propagation based on actual meteorological data between the Cornell loft in Ithaca, NY, USA (right edge of plot) and the Jersey Hill experimental release site (left edge of plot) on the one day that Cornell pigeons were well oriented there (inset circular diagram) and returned normally to the loft. Usually, Jersey Hill is in an acoustic ?shadow? zone relative to the loft, but on this day infrasonic signals were transmitted directly from the loft area to this release site due to abnormal atmospheric conditions.

The last day of the festival focuses on the invisible network of long waves, which envelops the Earth, with a tremendous effect on bird navigation, as we learn from an intriguing presentation by geophysicist Jon Hagstrum. Pigeons apparently can find their ‘home’ or ‘loft’ from anywhere, as long as they are able to hear the low frequency infrasounds produced by the movement of the oceans. These infrasounds continue reverberating across the continents, generating very specific ultrasound signatures according to the terrain crossed. This is what allows pigeons to find their ‘home’ even when partly blind folded (see illustration above). To conclude the Sonic Acts lecture series, cultural historian Hillel Schwartz narrates a brief history of ‘waves’, from the beginning of the XIX Century to present times. Why from the XIX Century onwards I ask: this is when the concept of waves was formalized, thanks to discoveries in physical sciences.

The Sonic Acts festival is really for anybody interested in gaining a greater awareness of timely issues, from a philosophical, scientific and artistic perspective. The festival successfully combines a great panel of lectures with art exhibits, theory and practice intersect but never too literally, making space for individual reflection.

Exclusive: an interview with Nahum Mantra, organiser of Kosmica

I recently had an interview – exclusive for the Astroblogs – with Nahum Mantra, the internationally recognised artist, composer and multi-instrumentalist, who has organised the space exhibition Kosmica, wich was recently held in Mexico City. On august 8th I had a presentation on Kosmica myself,  about my Moonbounce project. Beneath are some images about Nahum’s work too.

how did you get interested in space art, how and why did you start Kosmica?It happened when I met Nicola Triscott and we talked about all the work that The Arts Catalyst has done in the field. I was researching and writing about arts and science and then I decided to focus only on space arts. A few months afterwards Nicola and Roger Malina invited me to set up a new technical committee at the International Astronautical Federation for arts and culture in space.

After my work at the IAF I was struggling with the timeframes for developing projects in big space organisations. For nearly 3 years I was curating the Shunt Lounge in London Bridge where we had to curate 20 artists on a weekly basis. We had to work quickly while experimenting with our venue and new ways of engaging a large number of audiences. It was the artist way of doing things and with these ideas that after a conversation with Nicola and Rob La Frenais we decided to start a series of gatherings with wine, puffs and good space art conversations in London. It was an experiment, we didn’t know how many people would turn up to listen a handful of artists and scientists on a Friday night talking about galaxies. To our surprise it was hugely sexy – and not only for nerds!

Kosmica is a touring event, is the public response different, according to the geographical location and culture? and if so, what are the unique aspects of Kosmica Mexico?

Now that we have KOSMICA gigs in different countries we have learned the importance of the context. London audiences have seen it all before, everyone has their favorite scientist and can tell you about the LHC with zombie analogies. On the other hand, Mexico has a small community of scientists working in the country and people are not, in most cases, science literate. The Mexican Statistics Office (INEGI) has an interesting study about the perception of science and technology in Mexico and it presents some shocking figures. However I can sense that young people are open to hear about new and uncommon things, like artists in space. KOSMICA Mexico is packed with 20-year-old youngsters that forget there is a free bar and listen to all the speakers till midnight – it’s very inspiring.On this occasion, we had thematic blocks that could relate better to the Mexican audiences, for example: the space race and left behind communities and peace in space. The Mexican electronic arts scene is more related with DIY strategies, open source and hacktivism than in other places in Europe.

In Mexico City, the past, present and future seem to blend effortlessly. Why do you think is Space art and culture so popular in Mexico City, especially amongst young people?

Mexico is one of those privileged and cursed places where layers of different histories clash into a single identity. Oversimplifying what Mexico is, we can say that is the combination of two very magical cultures: the Mesoamerican and the Spanish. I think magical thinking has always appropriated space in different ways. I’ve always been careful when discussing topics like astrology and it was after meeting Nick Campion who taught me that pop culture is also important. Hence that astrology, myth and magic are an essential part of how we relate ourselves to the cosmos. However I still find alarming that in Mexican newspapers you can read horoscopes. After all, we continue to seek answers by gazing up.

how is Mexico involved in Space research?

Recently quiet a lot: space in Mexico is underground. There a few adventurers, both artists and scientists that are taking space arts seriously. It is very refreshing to see a different approach emerging on that side of the world. Is a small community that has all the right ingredients for producing exciting new work. There is a lot that hasn’t been explored in this field and I’m sure Mexico will be a nice surprise.

how do you see Space art evolving in the near future?

I would like to see more critical voices from not the usual places. I am interested on the alternative cultural perspectives on space exploration from places like Latin America, Africa, Middle East. Also I would like to see an increased awareness of how space is a fundamental ingredient in our lives. I believe that not only artists but also society needs to engage in greater debates about space that could benefit the here and now – sometimes it feels there is too much micromanagement going on in the planet.

next Kosmica appointment?

We are going back home and that is London. We have been a bit quiet during the year. Also we might have a gig in Gothenburg sometime in the winter, it will be spacely cold.


An interview with Trevor Paglen (The Last Pictures)

Credit: Trevor Paglen, Creative Time

On November 21, 2012 the Echostar XVI communications satellite was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Affixed to the exterior of that satellite is an archival disc created by artist Trevor Paglen called The Last Pictures. Echostar XVI has an geostationary orbit, 36.000 km above earth’s equator. Made of ultra-archival materials, the disc is expected to orbit the earth for billions of years. To create the artifact, Paglen micro-etched one hundred photographs selected to represent modern human history onto a silicon disc encased in a gold-plated shell that was designed at MIT and Carleton College. As a cultural artifact of our time, The Last Pictures is both a message to the future and a poetic meditation on the legacy of our civilization. Recently I had an interview with Paglen, about the images, time and his artistic research, which we did with Skype, an interview you can read here on the Astroblogs. Beneath the interview there are a couple of video’s, two of them about  Paglen’s Last Pictures and one of the launch of the Proton rocket, that brought the Echostar into orbit.

An interview with Trevor Paglen

In your most recent project, ‘The Last Pictures’ are encrypted into a disk made of a material that will last for billions of years. I find it interesting that these images portray a reality frozen in time, yet they can only be seen by the technological eye of the distant future.

With ‘The Last Pictures’, I don’t think they are supposed to be seen, I don’t think anybody will ever find them. There are many different ways of thinking what these pictures are or what they could be, but for me I think about the pictures to be a ‘urge’, it’s not so much that we are imagining to see the pictures but imagining the pictures as able to see us. I think about these images as a ‘ghost’ that revolves around the planet. For me ‘The Last Pictures’ are not so much about ‘seeing per se’, it’s more about materiality and trying to think ‘what does it mean to make things that last for a very, very long time’. What does it mean that humans are able to make things that last for millions of years?

Trevor Paglen. Credit: Trevor Paglen, Creative Time

How did you test the material used for the disk, to see if it could last for billions of years?
The tests were based on the theoretical understanding of how atoms in that particular material work, the chemical composition of the material should be very, very stable. In terms of how everything we understand now about different materials, what the properties of the material are and its capability, we did a lot of testing on the material, in addition to that, to demonstrate that it would survive the launch of the rocket, it’s of tremendous importance that it could remain stable over the great fluctuation of temperature. When you are in Space, there is no atmosphere so temperatures are very extreme, if you are in the sunlight it could be 200 or 300 degree Celsius, if you are in the shadow, it could be minus 200 or 300 degree Celsius, these changes of temperature can happen over the course of a few minutes. So the question was to demonstrate that the thing we made could withstand the temperature fluctuation and the vacuum, as well as the radiation. We did all of those tests at the M.I.T.Was the material used in ‘The Last Pictures’ created especially for the project or is it also used in the Space industry?The material is silicon, it’ a very basic material that is used in many other components. We had to figure out some technique in order to etch the images onto it. Normally, the material is used for nano fabrication.

The golden discs Paglen made. Credit: Trevor Paglen, Creative Time

Did you start the project at the M.I.T. or was it something you had been working on before the residency?
This project is something I had been working on for a while and the M.I.T. asked me to develop the project there.

Why sending the images into outer Space? Possibly many other people asked you that…
That’s a good question. Actually, the way I think about it, it isn’t Space but it’s much more sending it off into Time. It’s not going off into the Universe forever, it stays around Earth, to make something last that long, you actually need to go into Space, if you want to go that far into Time…The reason for that, on the Earth’s surface over a long, long period of time we have ice ages, glaciers,volcanoes, simple things like rain, the surface of the Earth is constantly being absorbed into the centre of the Earth and being created again, the surface of the Earth is constantly being recycled in and out of the core, again over a long, long period of time, hundreds of billion of years, if you want to make something that lasts as long as the planet, you actually have to get off the planet, because the surface of the Earth is not archivable enough. For me going into Space is a way of going into Time in a very intense way.

Launch of the Echostar XVI satellite. Credit: Echostar

Your work explores in a deep way the sense of time, possibly as much as Robert Smithson did: in his writings he continuously addresses the idea of time, yet the more this is addressed, the more this escapes a better understanding of it. Time seems to be a matter that is incredibly hard to define visually: is it circular, linear or spiral-like? In your work, in my opinion, you seem to think of time as a circular form.

We often think of time as a line that connects the past and the future, this is a recent understanding. I think of the circular idea of time as coming out from people like Walter Benjamin, he talks about how the linear notion of time and of progress that we have is generally perceived as being an advantage. Benjamin seems to have serious issues with that, pointing out that history is one turnover of recurring crises, whether economic or humanitarian crises that are produced and reproduced over and over again, however history needs to be reconsidered from the circular perspective to try to understand how these great crises are produced and reproduced and, only by recognizing that action, imagining a future in which those crises are not perpetuated eternally.There is a strong element of contradiction in ‘The Last Pictures’, in the way you refer to time, for example the use of black & white images, some of which belong to specific moments of the human history, remind me of how fragile our life on Earth is and yet the material where the images are encapsulated is conceived to outlive us.Everything about it is contradictory and I find it important, I like that. The choice for the black and white images is partly technical, also, going back to the question of time, making all those images in B&W allowed me to granulate time, to make juxtaposition where I can play with our sense of time, and in that way, again coming back to the Benjamin’s theory of history and crises, I can try to show some of the ways in which crises repeat themselves. For example there is an image of a tidal wave in Japan, a lot of people when they see the image think that it’s from a few years ago but no, actually it’s much older, again this shows the recurrence of crises.

Impression of the Echostar XVI. Credit: Echostar

I find it interesting that your research method allows you to bring together different disciplines in a very organic way, this is not always the case with artists working in multidisciplinary projects. Sometimes the multidisciplinary research doesn’t lead to a result that can have an impact on the way we perceive things for example, and stays very superficial. How did you develop your research method? Was your artistic training important for that?

Philosophically, I am not somebody who thinks ‘art is over here’ and ‘social science is over here’ or ‘science is over here’, those categories don’t make much sense in terms of understanding the world, if you are going to make yourself more disciplined in your way of thinking, you are going to miss a lot. Methodologically, how I see the work is from having trained as an artist and then as a geographer, also one of my best friends is a very, very well respected investigative journalist and we worked together in a number of projects and he ended up teaching me a lot of those methodologies which are very different from the methodologies we find in social science and to those associated with art making. This is definitively not something that I invented in terms of the different techniques, but I think I am able to make them blurry. I have been working for longtime with these methodologies, trying to understand them as well and trying to master them. So many times if you are an artist there are some visual things that are tempting to work with, but I think it’s more about going beyond that point. To really see something differently, it takes a tremendous amount of work, to understand what is in fact what you are looking at. I make a new project every five years and I think a lot of artists don’t work that way. So many of us are on deadline, I did that as well but in this long term projects I try to understand as much as possible and that takes time. If you really want to understand something and really get into the idea, it takes a longtime to investigate any idea and the methodology.


Project Video:

Trevor Paglen – The Last Pictures Project Video from Creative Time on Vimeo.


Trevor Paglen – The Last Pictures from Creative Time on Vimeo.

Launch of the Echostar XVI:

Source: Creative TimeKurzweil.

Report on the ESA Topical Team Arts & Science (ETTAS) meeting

On Monday 12 November I was invited to attend the opening of the Space Related Art Showcase at ESTEC in Nordwijk. This is the first public event of the ESA Topical Team Arts & Science (ETTAS), a programme just launched by international artists in collaboration with the European Space Agency. Here are some photos of the meeting (credit: Christian Lüthen):

As part of the exhibition, displayed in the Winter Garden area, a video installation featured projects by ETTAS’ artistic members: Anna Hill/Space Synapse (UK), Kirsten Johannsen (D), Ayako Ono (J), Marko Peljhan (SLO/USA), Sarah Jane Pell (AUS), Bradley Pitts (USA), Tim Otto Roth (D), Eva Schlegel (A), Angelo Vermeulen (B) and Christian Waldvogel (CH). All works presented were thought provoking, to say the least. Artist and astrophysicist, graduated from MIT, Bradley Pitts presented the video documentation of his naked flight on a Russian zero gravity plane. Artist and professional diver Sarah Jane Pell presented the documentation of one of her underwater performances. Indeed, underwater training is also part of an astronaut work routine. Sarah J. Pell is especially interested in live performances in extreme environments and this certainly links her work to that of Spacefarers. Christian Waldvogel figured out a way to escape the Earth’s rotation by collaborating with the Swiss Air Force and embarking on one of their planes. This allowed him to film the rotation of the Earth as if he was watching from a still point. A very poetic viewpoint. I would like to invite you to search for the work of all the artists mentioned above. The exhibition marked the first part of an ongoing Arts and Science programme in ESA that will develop in the near future with the addition of other collaborators.

Buzz Aldrin’s press conference during the IAC 2012 in Naples

I received a reply from Mike Garrett – head of ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy – regarding the conference with Buzz Aldrin – the second men on the moon, july 1969 – on the last day of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), which was held last week in Napels. He was lucky enough to be there, I had to leave that day for my flight to Amsterdam. Mike wrote ‘Buzz Aldrin’s presentation touched on Neil as a man, pilot, engineer and astronaut. He said that he had hoped that all three of them (himself, Neil Armstrong and Mike Collins) would be re-united in 2019 – the 50th anniversary of the first landing on the moon – but sadly it was not to be. He also mentioned that he had not expected Neil Armstrong to be the first of them “to go”. When he entered the room he passed right by Miriam (Janssen, alsof from ASTRON) and myself – I couldn’t get much closer!’ Mike sent me some pictures of Buzz Aldrin, here attached. Besides Buzz Aldrin you see ESA-astronauts Paoli Nespoli and Christian Fuglesang, who where too on the first SpaceUp conference in Genk, a few weeks ago.

Report from the 63rd International Astronautical Congress in Naples

Daniela de Paulis is gastcolumniste van de Astroblogs. Zij is een Italiaanse artiest, die onder andere het Moonbounce-project heeft ontwikkeld, dat uitgevoerd wordt met de 25 meter radiotelescoop van Dwingeloo. Hierover heeft zij op het afgelopen 63e International Astronautical Congress in Napels een presentatie gehouden. Hieronder een verslag van haar belevenissen in Napels. Daniela, bedankt hiervoor!

the venue of the congress

Just got back from the overwhelming 63rd International Astronautical Congress in Naples, it was truly an experience and would recommend it to anybody with a passion for flight, space travel and the future. During the five days symposium the outside world seems to disappear in the technology of flight wonderland. The programme is so intense that on your way back you will need a couple of days to make sense of all you have learned and seen during the congress. First of all it is an amazing opportunity for networking and meeting likeminded people, no matter which area of space flight you work in, whether engineering, SETI or culture. The congress is nomadic, it is held every year in a different town and next year it will be hosted in Beijing. On my way back to The Netherlands, I had tens of cards from new contacts and friends and many new projects in mind. I participated in the congress as an artist with a passion for radio astronomy and cosmic art, I also made a presentation about my collaboration with the CAMRAS team of radio amateurs at Dwingeloo radio telescope for a project called OPTICKS.

The SETI meeting

After the IAC opening ceremony, featuring performances and short films screening, paying a tribute to Italian engineer Luigi Napolitano, former president of the International Astronautical Federation, the marathon from one lecture room to the next started. People from all around the world attended, it was amazing seeing so many nationalities all gathered together under the umbrella of Astronautics. Due to the busy schedule, it was necessary selecting the areas of interest out of the many featured in the programme. My choice went for the SETI and Society symposium. ‘Seeking intelligence far beyond our own’ was the encouraging title of the opening presentation by current SETI director, Prof. Seth Shostak.

That’s me (left), with Mike Garrett (director of ASTRON), Mirian Janssen (ASTRON too), Thilina Heenatigala (project manager for Astronomers Without Borders).

What I find especially interesting about people working for SETI, apart from their cutting edge philosophy, is the sense of humour that pervades their work and the truly including approach to Science. Many of the lectures during this panel examined the rather difficult task of receiving a radio signal from outer space that might point to extraterrestrial intelligence. Until now none of these signals has been received, nevertheless SETI keeps searching, knowing that, should this happen, humankind needs to be prepared. Especially interesting was the presentation by Prof. Douglas Vakoch, Director of Interstellar Message Composition (what a nice job!). Dr. Vakoch is especially interested in the history and future use of interstellar message transmission, during his lecture he provided some great insights into the history of communication with a possible extraterrestrial life.

Sign from the Dutch stall on the IAC

After the inspiring SETI symposium we all went to the restaurant and enjoyed the company of people who made the history of SETI, radio astronomers, astrophysicists and people with a passion for space. Prof. Michael Garrett, the director of ASTRON, was also there. A SETI programme in The Netherlands in a near future? Let’s hope so, a far reaching scientific programme cannot avoid anymore asking the biggest questions. On the following day I attended the ‘Space as an Artistic Medium’ session, where my presentation took place. International artists and designers showcased their work, I was proud to be part of such a great group! Dr. Yvonne Clearwater, a former NASA designer, made a very interesting presentation about the past, present and future of NASA Art programme. Space Architecture, Space and Music were only some of the fascinating topics connecting Art and Space culture.

The final dinner

During my last day at IAC I took some time to wander around the many stalls filled with information and exhibits about current technological research on satellites and space. A cheerful toast with nice wines accompanied thorough conversations on science and business. I stopped by the Dutch Space booth and took some pictures of their products, talking with a gentleman who noticed my enthusiastic admiration for the stereoscopic camera display. He explained that the camera has been engineered in Holland and is used by astronauts on board of the ISS to make 3D recordings. Some 3D films were shown at the Dutch Space booth, I wore some special glasses and enjoyed the feeling of being part of the ISS crew.Before the congress was over I had to leave for Amsterdam, missing with my great regret the press conference with Buzz Aldrin, a tribute to Neil Armstrong. Will I ever get the chance to meet Buzz Aldrin again? I hope so! My plan to travel to Beijing next year for the 64th International Astronautical Congress has started, I’ll see you there!