In the week that Neil Armstrong took his own giant leap into the unknown, the defining moment of the baby-boomers’ generation sits prominently in our collective consciousness. The passing of the first man on the moon is a poignant signifier too of a generation who are looking past the moon at the ‘Red Planet’.
While the conquering of the moon represented the ultimate modern adventure for both East and West in the 60’s, Mars represents the next great leap in man’s exploration of the solar system. Long been dismissed a fantasy impossibly out of reach, the idea of a man walking on the surface of Mars has refused to go away.
NASA has always dreamed the greatest dreams and it is their stubbornness in proving the impossible possible that has resulted in some of our greatest achievements. Part of that struggle is winning the hearts and minds of the public, keeping people dreaming about outer space is their surest avenue to ensuring vital future funding. Stimulating the imaginations of children and capturing their dreams of the Cosmos is how they ensure the future of the space program.
With the NASA rover the Curiosity having landed safely on Mars and beaming back the most glorious colour images of Mars yet NASA are capitalising on the intense public interest in the exploratory programme with a neatly timed artistic commission which imagines human life on Mars. Kahn/Selesnick were commissioned by the space agency to imagine human interaction with Mars. The artistic duo have established a reputation for intuiting the public zeitgeist and realising in astounding beauty hyper-real narrative multimedia projects.
After visiting one of Kahn/Selesnick’s exhibitins ‘Apollo Prophecies’ Bert Ulrich at NASA’s Media Relations immediately called on the artists to turn their attentions to Mars. Kahn said of the project: “They [NASA] told us Mars is where we’re going to next and if you’re going to do this project we’d like you to do it about Mars. We didn’t start thinking about Mars until they told us to.”
When they turned their attention to the Mars question they imagined a desolate landscape, part photographs taken by Martian explorers Spirit and Opportunity and part desert landscapes of Nevada and Utah. The project entitled ‘Adrift on the Hourglass Sea’ portrays a Martian civilization that is seemingly both ancient and futuristic. Our Martian explorers interact with a surreal, ghostly world that challenges our concept of normality and what constitutes reality much as the surrealist masters did. This is a project that explores the recesses of our imaginations while simultaneously staying earthed in the certainties of modern science.
Both primitive and advanced, fanciful yet real, imagined and known, desolate yet hopeful, Kahn/Selesnick have imagined something beautiful, a silent, still story that enchants and inspires.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty