In 1977 Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan were invited by NASA to curate a Golden Record to send into space on board the Voyager probes. They wanted to put naked, anatomically correct bodies on the record cover but an outcry in Congress saw NASA accused of attempting to send porn into the cosmos. Sagan and Druyan encountered a very specific relationship between art and science, one demanding that art be both scientifically accurate and sexually contrite, and that it depict humanity beautifully and powerfully, without its flaws and frailties.
The Voyager satellites have now entered interstellar space. They are furthest away from us now than anything we have ever launched from Earth. The sounds and images carried on board Voyager simultaneously depict the 20th Century from the perspective of two forward-looking, esoteric thinkers and from the hopeful, bombastic and arrogantly internal perspective of America.
Ten years before Voyager, in 1969, the Moon Museum – a tiny ceramic wafer containing 6 artworks – was snuck on board the Apollo 12 mission and taken to the Moon. It included a reinvented Mickey Mouse drawing by Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol’s abstracted signature in the shape of both a cock and a rocket. The Moon Museum’s curator, artist Forrest Myers, unable to get a definite response from NASA about whether they would agree to take the artwork, went punk and convinced one of the engineers working on the project to covertly attach it to the leg of the spacecraft. We have to assume that the artwork remains there to this day. On Earth, you can see a copy of it at the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida.
Space and the future are interchangeable terms. They are both the extension and evolution of our current world, and outside our ability to comprehend. Space is also a mirror.
Currently in the space industry we see the shifted dynamics of world power since the end of the Cold War, our dependence on communication technologies and our prioritisation of resource exploration. The cultural utilisation of space is also active and it replicates our current century’s obsessions. The Mars rover tweets; 165,000 people applied to the Mars One reality TV competition and the Will.I.Am song Reach for the Stars has been broadcast back to Earth from the Red Planet. We look up and we see almost everything about our 21st Century selves. Our priorities. Our obsessions. Our extravagant failures. And, except for a few notable exceptions such as the Moon Museum, we don’t see contemporary art.
Art has to have a say in how NOW is reflected in the inevitable future. We look back on the Voyager and see what is missing: that we are depicted as white, heterosexual and without genitals; that women are pregnant and smaller and stand slightly behind men; that there are no women composers; that our music comes largely from the Western world; that the Indigenous content is an ethnographic wonderland. Creating artwork for space gives artists the opportunity to articulate what it is about the current historical moment that is worth the future’s attention. It can demand that art not have to sneak itself on board, that it wants more than just a decorative role and a clean, polite voice in which to speak for Earth.
Forever Now is a 21st Century response to the Voyager Record by artists. Curated by myself, Jeff Khan (Performance Space), Brian Ritchie (MONAFOMA) and Thea Baumann (Aphids), the forevernow.me website is now open and calling for artists worldwide to make contributions in the form of 1-minute artworks—sound, video or both—towards the creation of a new golden record for the 21st Century.
The Forever Now record will be created by esteemed contemporary jeweler Susan Cohn, Director of Workshop 3000 and represented by Anna Schwartz Gallery. A previous example of Cohn’s investigation into the cultural utility of different materials is beautifully expressed in her work Last the Blast (2006), a collection of wearable jewelry pieces, designed to be both mass-produced and capable of surviving a bomb blast should the wearer become the victim of one.
Forever Now takes the position that artists are best placed to speak for Earth, precisely because they can articulate what Voyager did not: the abstract, messy, emotional and ambiguous. The haunted feeling left by each and every abuse of power. The ironic and the post-ironic. The sublime and the crucial differences between art and porn.
Until the launch in January 2015, the Forever Now team will be doing everything in their power to get this work into space, even calling Richard Branson. Everything, that is, bar compromising the integrity of the artworks contributed. The response will show us not only what artists want to say about this current historical moment, but how this current historical moment is able to cope with what artists need to express.
Willoh S.Weiland is an artist, writer, curator and the Artistic Director of Aphids (www.aphids.net). Aphids creates contemporary cross-artform works using performance, music, site-specificity and new...