Out of This World: Kosmica at FACT

Jon Davies hopes for a stellar evening; a quartet of female speakers his guides…

Since mid-December FACT has exhibited Republic of the Moon, a series of lunar inspired artworks, augmented by cult sci-fi film nights and, now, a programme of discussions around our relationship with outer space. It’s a fitting time to stage this event, what with a re-ignition of cosmic interest in popular culture thanks to Brian Cox, and now the physics world is making huge strides in finding the Higgs boson particle. Kosmica, via The Arts Catalyst, presented four guest speakers, split between the art and science disciplines – the key was finding common ground.

Opening speaker, Dr Iya Whitely presented findings regarding astronaut psychology, and whether it would be mentally possible to prepare for a mission to Mars. Of the four, this talk perhaps did least to straddle the common ground between art and science, but was nevertheless fascinating, and raised issues seldom considered (at least in the public consciousness) when discussing the possibility of sending manned missions out further than the Moon. I suppose the fact that talks such as these are presented to the general, arts-minded public, is to offer new inspirations for creativity. I hadn’t encountered work taking the position of the astronaut; the potential for dread and anxiety an astronaut could experience going unconsidered.

Hilde de Bruijn countered Whitely’s statistical approach, with a positively light-hearted talk on moon-inspired art and fashion, by way of her Moon Life shop. De Bruijn’s project offers a platform for arts and crafts that provide solutions to daily life on the Moon, and despite my initial reactions of some of the ideas being a little crude (one particular uncomfortable suggestion was turning it into a remote cemetery) there was a good degree of humour in each article presented. In particular, the idea of the Faraday Bag, which allowed a Moon resident to escape any form of communication by producing an enclosure that blocks out any form of radio contact. Although de Bruijn did veer into sales-pitch mode she was probably the most popular of the speakers, as her shop’s concept were more in the category of affordable art for sale than haute couture.

The best speaker to marry art with science and technology was the Planetary Society’s Bee Thakore, explaining her work with predicting space age learning tools, inspired by Lego. Thakore was also the most aware of the uniqueness of the lineup of speakers for tonight, given they were all women. She highlighted the rarity of female astronauts and intimated the difficulty for women to enter the astronautical world, but gave examples of women who she works with and how they managed to get to such a position.

If Thakore only highlights the gender inequalities in the field of astronautics, the documentary by Ulrike Kubatta drove the argument home. Kubatta produced a wonderful film called She Should Have Gone To The Moon, the story of Jerri Truhill, one of the first women to be trained to go into space. Sadly her career was cut short by the chauvinism within NASA, but the journey to get so far, and firebrand personality of Truhill was more than worthy of documenting. There were a few awkward artsy moments in the film; while the best parts were simply Truhill recounting her story, but overall it was a highly enjoyable watch and a great end to the evening.

To me, Kosmica showed that ambitions of space exploration are far from over, especially for women, and it would be cruel for our quests in outer space to diminish as soon as the men are bored with the idea. As a society we are looking for an escape from today’s world problems, perhaps tonight, as well as FACT’s exhibition will pave the way for another century of scientific leaps, showing that imagination and inquisitiveness for a new way aren’t dead after all.

Jon Davies

Image courtesy Thom Isom

Posted on 05/02/2012 by thedoublenegative