Artists anticipate and prefigure with their work the fundamental questions surrounding humanity's future and its drift.
Art's intuitive ability to see the future has been a key to science's discovery and validation. Space Art was a key part in creating an image of our solar system, long before actual photographs were available. Contemporary art speculates about the future of interplanetary colonization.
The stars have always been the focus of humanity. The artist is the medium through which this vertigo and desire for it can be channeled. He or she acts as an intermediary, translating distant mirages into tangible reality. Lascaux caves in France were the first to document this curiosity in the universe. It was possible to see what Jupiter, Kepler-1649c, Mars, and the Milky Way looked like long before digital photography and astrophotography.
Mars is a flickering, reddish-colored star that appears to be very familiar. It has been captivated by scientists and artists for centuries. These are all cosmic interpretations of breathtaking beauty that make the invisible visible.
Why Mars? Mars is within reach; Perseverance demonstrated that we can get there in less than half a year. It is roughly the same size as Earth and has the same days, but we also see similarities in its landscapes. The mountains, lakes, deserts, craters, and craters all remind us of the natural beauty of Arizona and Utah. It has a rocky surface, unlike Jupiter's gas bomb. And, even though it doesn't have our oxygenated atmosphere, it isn't engulfed in thick, poisonous atmosphere like Venus. Mars could be a viable option in the not-too distant future as Earth's environmental health deteriorates.
Mars as seen from moon Deimos | Lucien Rudaux, Wikicommons
Space Art, and its retro-futuristic prints from the late 19 th and the first half of 20 _ century allowed ordinary people to create a picture of the solar systems and planets. It is also known as "astronomical artwork", but it was a powerful propaganda tool for future space missions.
Chesley Bonestell and Lucien Rudaux were two of the most prominent exponents. Rudaux, the grandfather in astronomical art, published observations on Mars in 1892. It included drawings that showed the planet's "seas", and polar caps. His thought-provoking, realistic drawings make Bonestell the first modern space artist. His talent led him to create special effects in Hollywood. In 1944 Life magazine, one of his Saturn illustrations was published. This made a significant impact on the public's opinion.
Space Art was born. It is an art that stimulates the imagination of people who have been through a long war. NASA realized the potential of these creations and their power to create a collective imagination, transcending the concrete, removing obstacles, and bringing scientific discoveries and innovations closer to the people. Space Art was a great fundraising tool, as it allowed for the interpretation of these discoveries by artists such as Ron Miller, David A. Hardy, and Ludek Pesek. Artists and scientists collaborated from this point forward to transform current and future research into images that provoked thought.
Art and contemporary photography are up-to-date. They closely follow the fortunes and challenges of planetary exploration. Vincent Fournier, Richard Selesnick and Nicholas Kahn, American photographers, find space paraphernalia in Martian landscapes and other materials that can be used to create futuristic worlds.
Kahn & Selesnick create visual stories that combine the frightening and the sublime. Mars: Adrift at the Hourglass Sea (2010) sees two female astronauts explore the surface of the planet and discover the remnants of an ancient civilization. After having been granted access to restricted spaces like the Gagarin Cosmonaut training center in Moscow (Russia), or the Mars Desert Research Station (USA), Vincent Fournier recreates aseptic scenes from hangars and Martian panoramas where the human figure is placed, as if lost in the vastness.
Thomas Ruff is a German photographer who is a heir to the concept aesthetic. He was also part of the Dusseldorf School of Photography where New Objectivity emerged. Thomas Ruff uses NASA's public archive to saturate and drain them of colour, compress them to give new perspectives, or render them in 3D. In ma.r.s (2010) he modifies and repropiates black-and-white photographs taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellite. Ruff discusses the role of photography today and says that although the photos " appear real, they are entirely fictional." The artist believes that vision is not based on our eyes but more on our brain. The brain is what sees, and not the eyes.
Others have not only taken images and archives of Mars but also sent their work to the planet. Damien Hirst was one of these people. He sent a small piece to the planet as a calibration chart with the Beagle 2 space probe launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2003. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter discovered that the craft that was lost upon landing on Mars had been found on its surface. Hirst's artwork survived, making it the first piece of art to reach Mars.
Artists prefigured and anticipated in their work fundamental questions about the future of humanity, just as they did in Lascaux caves. The artist community began to be more interested in the history of colonization and less in what government agencies would do to make it possible for humans to survive beyond Earth's borders. For some time, it had been wondering about the dire consequences of climate change.
Vibha Galhotra's work, which oscillates between the technological and traditional, is an example. Galhotra examines the devastating effects of human behavior on the Anthropocene. She examines the capitalist logic of interplanetary migration, which she believes is a way to escape inevitable ecological disaster. Her sculptures and installations are reminiscent of Indian traditional culture in their formal elegance. She uses NASA images to create her Life on Mars series (2020) and hand-sews murals out of ghungroos, small metal bells worn in Indian and Pakistani classical dancing. Galhotra explores the processes of construction, demolition, and reconstruction. She combines science fiction and reality.
Janet Biggs and Halil Altindere are artists who analyze concepts like that of the space refugee, as well as the migratory crises of our planet. With the short film Space Refugee (2016), the Turkish artist creates a semi-utopia reminiscent of Fellini. It stars Muhammed Ahmed Faris (a crewmember on Soyuz TM-3 from the Mir space station in 1986), the first Syrian astronaut to space. He became a fierce opponent of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and is now a refugee living in Istanbul. The film depicts millions of Syrians fleeing their homeland to seek refuge in Mars settlements. Faris imagines a better world without the complexity of national politics.
Janet Biggs, a US performer, photographer and video artist, is well-known for her films of almost supernatural landscapes shot in politically unstable or inhospitable areas. Her miniseries Like walking on Mars (2018) combines scenes from the Mars Desert Research Station, Utah (used for simulating living conditions on Mars), with scenes from Djibouti's Yemeni refugee camp, Ethiopian emigrants, observatories on the Canary Islands, and a video of a Mars rover. Human movement, search and displacement, and resettlement are the main themes. This includes the Ethiopian people being driven from their homes by drought and Yemenis fleeing war and hunger. It is this theme that has inspired us to colonize Mars.
The new colonies on Mars will replicate the socio-political patterns of Earth. Will Mars settlements be Noah's Arks of the super-rich or will they create a fantasy world where the most disadvantaged classes are given their extraterrestrial plot and leave the Earth for a few? Jameson's maxim, "it's easier than to imagine the ending of the world than that of capitalism," is what Mark Fisher's "capitalist realist" ( Capitalist Realistic, Zero Books 2009) reveals that the new space race of private companies will increase social and economic inequality in a form that extends beyond our atmosphere.
Contemporary art is unable to see a future that does not reflect or repeat the present and its socio-economic conditions. This has replaced the candour of the Lascaux cave men and women and the optimism of Space Art illustrators. Art shows that capitalism is the true conqueror of all worlds, and not humanity.