Sojourner 2020 | An international art payload to ISS

Wenjun Liang 

Through the ages, artists, writers, and filmmakers have always been inspired by space. Artists’ visionary depictions of space as an environment for people have influenced the scientific and engineering feats we know so well today. How will artists continue to inspire the future of space exploration? What are the opportunities and challenges in the creation of art for space, and art depicting space and space technologies? In 2019, the Space Exploration Initiative announced an open call to invite artists to submit artworks for an exciting ISS launch opportunity.  After three rounds of reviews, nine groups of artists are selected to be on board Sojourner 2020, an international art payload.

Sojourner 2020 (a 1.5U size unit, 100mm x 100mm x 152.4mm ) will be launched into low Earth orbit for about 30 days. It features a three-layer telescoping structure which creates three different “gravities”: zero gravity, lunar gravity, and Martian gravity. Each layer of the structure rotates independently. The top layer remains still in weightlessness, while the middle and bottom layers spin at different speeds to produce centripetal accelerations that mimic lunar gravity and Martian gravity, respectively. Each layer carries 6 pockets that can hold projects. 

The nine artist groups selected onboard Sojourner2020:

Luis Guzman - bioarchitectures - Chile

Xin Liu, Lucia Monge - Unearthing the Futures - China & Peru

Andrea Ling - Abiogenetic Triptych - USA, Canada 

Kat  Kohl - Memory Chain: A Pas de Deux of Artifact - USA

Henry Tan - Pearl of Lunar - Thai 

Janet Biggs - Finding Equilibrium - USA 

Masahito Ono - Nothing, Something, Everything - Japan

Adriana Knouf - TX-1 - USA

Erin Genia - Canupa Inyan: Falling Star Woman - American Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate  

Each pocket is a container with 10mm in diameter and 12mm in depth. Though the space is limited, the artist groups proposed and accomplished artworks in a variety of different mediums, including carved stone sculpture by Erin Genia, liquid pigment experiments by Andrea Ling and Levi Cai, sculptures made of transgender hormone replacement meds by Adriana Knouf, among the others.

Sojourner 2020 highlights the ways in which the arts can contribute to new means of encountering space. While access to space is becoming more possible due to commercial launch providers, those sending projects often remain scientific or engineering researchers. Sojourner 2020 broadens this to include an unprecedented collection of international artists, thereby both democratizing access to space as well as opening space exploration to transdisciplinary perspectives. By including projects from indigenous peoples and gender minorities, the project additionally enacts key values of human dignity and equality. 

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