Earthling’s Quest is an
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.
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”. (http://www.space.com/12707-earth-photo-moon-nasa-lunar-orbiter-1-anniversary.html). 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“.
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.
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: http://www.columbusearththeater.nl/.
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.
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?
DdP: Why the idea of an art-satellite for Mexico, what is the social and artistic message you wish to convey with this project?
DdP: Sending a satellite into Space is a long term project, how do you plan and work towards the launch?
DdP: How was your project approached by the technicians and scientists? was it difficult to convince them to collaborate?
DdP: When will the satellite be launched and how long will it transmit the signals for?
DdP: I can imagine this project changed your working method in a way. Is that the case?
DdP: Anything else you would like to add about your project which we didn’t ask?
DdP: Thank you Juan!‘
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Launch of the Echostar XVI:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!