Space Has Arrived: Space Exploration Initiative at Ars Electronica 2020

Wenjun Liang, Xin Liu 

This year, we joined Ars Electronica In Kepler’s garden online program, a collective effort to reconnect. 

We hosted three interactive workshops, spanning a diverse range of SEI’s current research thrusts: Wellbeing in Extreme Environments, led by Maggie Coblentz; Interplanetary Time, Communication and Longevity, led by Che-wei Wang and Sands Fish; and A New Moon Landing, led by Mehak Sarang. In addition we featured an exhibition on Sojourner2020, the first international art open call that took a trip to the International Space Station this March, led by Xin Liu.

Our digital spaceship is also live, and houses our diverse portfolio of projects. We invite you to visit this interactive space, and immerse yourself in this digital world.

Interplanetary Time, Communication, and Longevity

For the Ars Electronica "Interplanetary Time, Communication, and Longevity" workshop, we wanted to provide a space for participants to think about the implications and opportunities of long distances and time-frames that make up a vision of humanity expanding into the wider universe. We found ourselves asking questions like "How will great expanses of time and space impact how we live, communicate, and celebrate?" and “What does it mean to be a trans-temporal species?” The Space Exploration Initiative believes in the democratization of space as one of its core principles, so we created a space where anyone could contribute to these conversations about the long-term possibilities of the future of human culture. Using a shared virtual whiteboard to present, collect, brainstorm, and remix ideas, we began gathering habits, traditions, and cultural events categorized by different time scales. Realtime, Days, Months, Years, Decades, Centuries/Generations, Epochs. 

What followed was a rich discussion about how the constraints of living in space would alter and redefine our rituals. Watching sunsets, menstruation, careers, funerals, and the geologic formation of new mountains were a few of the “rituals” that were collected as we considered how they might be different in space. Participants wove together each others' contributions and considered how they imagined them evolving in the context of long distance space travel, communicating over long distances with significant latency, and contending with the complications and opportunities of the microgravity environment.

The results of the workshop have been archived so that it can exist as an ongoing set of inspirations for everyone thinking about the future of life in space.

A New Moon Landing

What do we remember from the Apollo era? The Moon landings were six discrete events in time, but the terrestrial impact – the spectacle and symbolism of it all – fascinated an entire generation. That fascination was reflected across society and culture from art, to music, design, and the aesthetics of the Space Age.

In the “New Moon Landing” workshop, we examined the aesthetics of the Space Age, reflecting on how space travel – representative of the cutting edge of modernity, human progress, and technology – seeped its way into the psyche of the general population. Although many of the Apollo generation were not able to make it to space, they could own the latest Sputnik Chandelier, or space-age Go-go boots, surrounding themselves with artifacts that reflected a new society – a sort of “aspirational design” aesthetic.

From there, participants reflected on the impact of our New Space Age – we asked: what will the New Space Age look like? Will space exploration once again fascinate and transfix our society? Will silhouettes of space travel make its way back into our design aesthetics? Will the SpaceX spacesuits become high fashion? What modern advancements in material processing or even synthetic biology will combine with these themes to produce new materials and design experiences for the next Artemis generation? 

Wellbeing in Extreme Environments 

How do we adapt to extreme conditions and how do we care for each other? In the time of pandemic and isolation, can we learn from astronauts and people who have lived in extreme environments?

The “Wellbeing in Extreme Environments” workshop focused on food as a key creature comfort in space. As humans venture further into space, food will play an even more significant role on long duration space travel and in future life in space habitats. Currently, space food is freeze-dried and prepackaged in ways consistent with the demands of present day space travel. The advancement of deep space exploration and the development of an interplanetary space tourism industry will make possible new cultural events and experiences never encountered before in human history. 

In this workshop we discussed the role of food in our current lives, and how we could create space food that extends beyond basic sustenance and inspires new rituals and traditions. Participants gathered in our “Space Food Test Kitchen” to co-create a collection of space-inspired recipes. Check out our space food recipes here: 

Sojourner2020 Artist Conversation

We hosted this artists conversation on Sojourner2020, the first international art open call that took a trip to the International Space Station this March. Sojourner2020 is created by an unprecedented collection of international artists, bringing in knowledge from indigenous groups, queer communities and diverse cultures, as well as transdisciplinary perspectives.

The Sojourner 2020 artists:

Luis Guzman - bioarchitectures - Chile

Lucia Monge, Xin Liu  - 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 

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