Republic of The Moon – Reviewed

Does FACT’s new exhibition have the right stuff, or were we left howling at the moon?

Our fascination with the moon is as old as time itself. Unlike the life-giving sun, our relationship with it is two-fold: on the one hand it’s magical and seductive, a romantic presence in our lives. On the other, it conjures up nightmare images of werewolves and witches, and the word ‘lunatic’ is of course, derived from the word lunar.

It follows therefore that the history of art is littered with its influence.  From Francis Godwin’s The Man in The Moone (published posthumously in 1638), to Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo, on the life of Frenchman Georges Melies, famous for his 1902 film A Trip to The Moon, it has for centuries been a source of inspiration.

Curated by The Arts Catalyst and FACT, Republic of The Moon posits lunar life as habited by us. First things first, the pieces making up the exhibition can best be described as playful, with much of the work employing heavy elements of post-modernism. This isn’t mere pastiche, however, as alongside this there are appropriations of technology.  As with Andy Gracie’s Drosophila Titanus, an experiment with a new strain of fruit fly which could theoretically survive, not on our moon, but on (you guessed it) Titan.

Pushing scientific possibilities somewhat to the limit is Agnes Meyer-Brandi’s The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility (banner image). Drawing on Godwin’s novel, Meyer-Brandi bred 11 ‘moon-geese’ echoing those of The Man in The Moone, who pulled a chariot beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Analogue is a rehearsal for living in space, which to all intents and purposes is what the geese are doing. In a remote facility (in this case Pollinaria, Italy, rather than Tycho), we can interact with the geese via the fully operational control room in Gallery 1. It’s an impressive piece which encourages empathy with the illustrious 11, their profiles on the wall alongside the eggs from which they hatched, each named after a famous astronaut.

“It’s an impressive piece which encourages empathy with the illustrious 11…each named after a famous astronaut”

As well as housing Gracie’s fruit-fly, Gallery 2 plays host to three other, pretty disparate, works. Enter At Own Risk from duo WE COLONISED THE MOON (Hagen Betzwiser and Sue Corke) is an imaginative piece, taking as its inspiration the reported scent on astronaut uniforms after having walked on the moon. The installation, which you access via an air-lock, re-creates this smell of the rocks, which has been impressively verified by Buzz Aldrin, no less! If you’re planning to see the exhibition, we’d urge you to go of a weekend, when you are treated to a performative piece by an ‘astronaut’ spraying the rocks with the synthesised smell of the moon. This transforms something which could have been accused of mere novelty into an experience which, for most of us, is probably the closest we’ll get to a real life space traveller.

Sharon Houkema’s M3, while the most understated of the installations, is no less captivating for this. Composed of no more than an OHP, plastic cup, mist maker, print and water, the result is a beautiful and eerie ‘moon’ as seen from under water.  If this doesn’t sound too impressive, our words have failed us, because it was perhaps our pick of the exhibition. Onto Leonid Tishkov’s Private Moon (above), a comment on Russia’s relationship with the space programme, as symbol of Communism’s power and endeavour. Somehow quaint and a little incongruous, there is nonetheless an ethereal quality in Leonid’s photography, depicting the moon as a private utopia, open to all.

Downstairs in the Media Lounge is Liliane Lijn’s Moonmeme. Purporting to respond to the moon’s relationship to ‘feminine transformation and renewal’, it is a ‘real-time’ representation of the moon in its various phases. As the moon’s surface is revealed, the word ‘SHE’ can be seen. For us, Moonmeme is on the underwhelming side, a vision not fully realised, and it shows. It does however raise very real questions about the lunar surface and potential issues of ownership.

Though the gallery guide poses questions around how we will live on the moon, the politics of the moon, and whether there could be a transnational territory of the moon, we’re uncertain the exhibition really attempts to answer these questions. That isn’t to say the exhibition isn’t a good one; it is engaging and entertaining, asking us to suspend our disbelief. In this it succeeds wholeheartedly, and FACT can be applauded for another winning, if not quite out of this world, exhibition.

Images courtesy Brian Slater

Until 26th February 2012 at FACT

Posted on 30/12/2011 by thedoublenegative