Saturday, December 17, 2011

Moon Art

Paul Van Hoeydonck is responsible for the only piece of art on the moon, a tiny memorial sculpture called "Fallen Astronaut." The piece is interesting for several reasons. For one, it presents us with a clear understanding of the kinds of technical limitations that moon artists must work under. Limitations, of course, can be instrumental to an artist's practice -- a broke Basquiat painted on window frames and cabinet doors -- but space art's parameters border on the draconian. In the design of the piece, Van Hoeydonck was restricted to materials that were both lightweight and sturdy, as well capable of withstanding extreme temperatures. Since it was to be a memorial to deceased astronauts, it couldn't be identifiably male or female, nor of any ethnic group. The somewhat questionable result: what looks like a metal Lego lying face-down on Mons Hadley.

Like the Moon Museum, Fallen Astronaut was an unofficial venture; the statuette was smuggled aboard the Apollo 15 lunar module by the astronauts themselves -- Scott and Jim Irwin -- without the knowledge of NASA officials. Its "installation" was unorthodox: in laying down the sculpture and its accompanying plaque, Irwin and Scott performed a private ceremony on the lunar surface. "We just thought we'd recognize the guys that made the ultimate contribution," Scott later said. Notable: "the guys" include eight American and six Soviet astronauts, a surprisingly apolitical act of solidarity in the midst of the Cold War.

Maybe I'm sentimental--OK, I am--but there's something really cool about imagining that statue "up" there on the Moon.

I wonder when we'll ever go back?

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