by Saffron Sener
What follows is an exhibit proposal. It is a curated collection of multiple pieces all relating to each other as per the below-explained theme/title. This blog post is meant to exist as an online installation accessible to all. Please consider the included pieces as if you were visiting a physical gallery. Enjoy!
Exhibit Title: the Great Beyond
Pieces, with their display captions:
Powers of Ten (1977) by Charles and Ray Eames
This short film (nine minutes) was created by couple Charles and Ray Eames. It documents their perception of existence as it would appear at different levels of magnitude. Zooming in on cells and out on the universe, this work combines scientific interpretation with art in its reckoning of life at every size.
Etc. by Ryan Heshka
acrylic + mixed media on board, 2007
Depicting a group of women and a mechanical beast moving outward from view, this imagining of alien life is colorful, intricate, and wonderfully weird. Heshka draws on pulp fiction cover art from the early to mid-20th century and adds his own eccentric flair and narratives to create windows to other worlds.
Assorted Pulp Fiction covers, unknown artists
A small assemblage of an almost endless collective, these pulp fiction covers display peeks into their subjects, from space adventurers to overlords to aliens. Hailing from the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, these illustrations allow modern viewers an idea of how authors and artists viewed life in outer space and beyond, granting a portal to the science fiction of yesteryear.
Christ and the Virgin Interceding for Humanity Before God the Father by Lucas Cranach the Elder
oil on lime, 1516-1518
For centuries, the stars of space were not necessarily its most compelling aspect; space was also the home of God and Heaven. In this piece, Lucas Cranach the Elder asserts the dominion of God as the skies and the dominion of humanity as the Earth, laying a clear spatial divide and emphasizing the divine aspect of the atmosphere (and beyond).
A short playlist including five songs
"Brave Captain" - fIREHOUSE
"I Hear a New World" - Joe Meek & the Blue Men
"Get Up" - The Blow
"Synthesize Me" - The Space Lady
"Portofino 1" - Raymond Scott
Each of these songs diverge in genre and topic but remain related and valuable in their perceptible treatment of space, the future, or the Great Beyond in some way.
Our lives are spent wholly under a blanket of stars. We can only see them for half of this time, but they are always there. And humanity has confronted this omnipotent presence in endless ways. This exhibit will delve into perceptions of the Great Beyond, be it visions of aliens or God, tales of space-explorers or the sizes of everything.
We begin with a realistic imagination of the universe. Its distance and abstractness pose no barrier for scientific exploration. Charles and Ray Eames tackled this in their short documentary film “Powers of Ten” (1977). Bringing our view of the universe out to 100 million light years and then 0.000001 angstroms in, the Eameses take their viewers into the fibers of the beyond in two directions to confront the magnitude of our existence. This film wrestles with the relativity of everything, braving potential existential consequences and qualms.
The 20th century lent itself to visualizations of the future, of the far-off and magical 21st century. With attempts to pierce space (like Sputnik or the Moon landing), space became synonymous with progress; one cannot separate the Great Beyond from its connection to forward movement. It is in the world of the future where space becomes approachable. Raymond Scott, an American composer who invented and constructed his own synthesizers, drum machines, and other electronic instruments, affirmed the direction of music into the future with his experimental tracks like “Portofino 1”. The happy, yet almost pensive song is a collection of electronic sounds tied together and fit for play over a tour of the metropolises so often imagined of the future. His technological compositions paralleled images of an automated, advanced future.
But, there are aspects of the cosmos and our interjection of humanity into that space which necessitates discussion. Why - why does our species look up to the skies with dreams of divinity and exploration? Is it an age-old fascination of that which is just beyond our reach or is it something more?
And, in this age of planetary collapse - how ethically can we dream about outer space? Should we look to the stars for hope or should they act as reminders of our own relegation to this planet which is currently being killed? Listening to “Get Up” by The Blow exposes us to one person’s grappling with the hoarding of resources by older, richer people. Rather than enter the Great Beyond of outer space, this person sings of “the Internet ghetto” that’s “all made of light,” all that’s left for people “too late to get the 3D real estate.” For this person, it’s not the stars that provide an outlet for their future, but rather the digital lifescape.
Often, outer space is referred to as the “Last Frontier.” The concept of a “frontier” is complicated and often controversial - the word itself implies untamed, ready-for-the-taking space, but often buries the reality of that which already exists. We can look to American history for proof of this; as white settlers moved further and further west, further and further into the “frontier,” they paved their way through the destruction and decimation of Native lives and natural landscapes. Though the United States prefers to remember history through the glorified lens of Manifest Destiny, this requires the denial of a very real Native American genocide.
How does this translate to the Great Beyond? Well, like images of cowboys in Old Western films, there are the heroes and adventures of mid-20th century pulp fiction novel covers. White men and women are seen battling the native inhabitants of whatever far-off planet they’re exploring, conquering the land and quelling the threat. And other adventures in the “Last Frontier” assume an almost Biblical quality - all-powerful entities dictating life and special children become the center of the space story. fIREHOUSE’s “Brave Captain” tells the tale of an expedition on the brink of mutiny. Exploration gone wrong - a treatise into the inevitable dangers of journeys into the unknown.
And yet, it is a lonely dimension, space. There is no sound, no warmth, no song drifting by like Joe Meek & the Blue Men’s “I Hear a New World” feels it would be. And from the human eye, there are only the stars and darkness for miles upon miles upon miles. But it is in those dark spaces that humans have found space to fill. Be it an alien world, as seen in Ryan Heshka’s Etc., or the plane of the divine, as asserted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in Christ and the Virgin Interceding for Humanity Before God the Father, we have lost no time in seeing what is beyond the capacity of our eyes.
With love, though, we look up to the stars. The Great Beyond is that unreachable, untouchable, but wondrous space that allows imagination to flourish. We don’t know what’s out there, so anything could be. We attempt to chip away at it with searches for inhabitable planets and journeys to Mars, but it remains as that which is just away from our fingertips - just beyond. “Synthesize Me”, sings the Space Lady, who got her name from an underground Berkeley newspaper in the 1980s. “Hypnotize me - energize me.”