Space rocks Tom Sachs
ON the one hand, the bricolage sculptures from Tom Sachs’ ongoing Space Program series look remarkably like the NASA space-exploration vehicles on which they are modeled: a NASA Mars Rover, the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), and other devices that helped put people into space. On the other hand, Sachs makes no attempt at disguising the everyday items of which they are composed: plywood, cardboard, masking tape, a toilet-paper tube used as a stand-in for a video camera lens, umbrellas with hooked handles used as substitutes for parabolic satellite dishes, and game consoles and household generators meant to mimic the controls inside space capsules and space stations. In a sense, he’s like a kid gone wild, making full-scale models based on the real tech from NASA’s aerospace research programs in order to recreate NASA missions at home. It’s serious play — but then again, it’s not so serious.
“He was a kid of the ’60s and was so fascinated by the Apollo program and what it meant for a world in turmoil, for a brief moment, to collectively hold its breath and watch the moon landing,” said Irene Hofmann, SITE Santa Fe’s Phillips Director and Chief Curator. “He was attracted to the science, the technology, and the romance surrounding it. All of that stuck with him.”
The moon landing and space exploration are moments of future shock, what author Alvin Toffler, writing in his nonfiction work Future Shock in 1970, described as times of change that occur when our lives are invaded or challenged by technologies that impact the future of humankind in significant ways, for better or for worse. The theme of Future
Shock, SITE’S first exhibition in the newly renovated building, is inspired by Toffler’s book. In the case of Sachs, the technologies that allow for such things as NASA’s space program are paradoxically embraced as inspiration but denied in terms of how he constructs his own pieces. “So much of what he makes is so very analog,” Hofmann said. “His versions of the Mars Rover or the LEM have things like Atari joysticks and VHS tapes and everything is really simple. It’s all beautifully, whimsically pieced together from what’s around. For Future Shock ,I really wanted to include Tom’s work because it expresses exuberance for exploration and advancement of technology in a way that’s really accessible. There are some artists in this exhibition that show us another side of technology and how it can change our lives in ways that are not so positive or that hold different warnings for the future.”
Space Program is the ultimate DIY project, although none of it actually works, at least not in a way befitting NASA. But there is another way in which it does work and in which it can take on an aura of reality, as the best imaginative play can. SITE has the objects that Sachs built, but they were envisioned as components of an interactive installation. Sachs’ Space
Program: Mars opened at New York’s Park Avenue Armory in 2012 and is the subject of a 2016 documentary, A Space Program, by director Van Neistat. As shown in the film, Sachs doesn’t just make these sculptures, but he engages with them, employing whole teams to recreate missions to Mars that can get quite detailed and involved in the manner of the greatest cosplay. However, the Mission Control center he built for these pretend space ventures was located inside a trailer on a sound stage. The missions, which could last for hours on end, were attended by live audiences.
Sachs’ Space Program is a conceit, a wry elbow jab in the collective side of the audience. A child can scare herself half to death pretending that a simple wooden stick is an evil witch. Sachs takes that same idea of a pretense and applies a metanarrative to it. He never lets you fully forget that this is conceptual art — albeit fun, smart-alecky conceptual art. Take, for instance, his specimen cabinet full of individually labeled fake Mars rocks with names like “Silicone on Sapphire,” “Career Opportunities,” and “Charlie Don’t Surf.” His title for the piece, Synthetic Mars Rocks (Ready to Die) tells you they are not real. Space Program gives new meaning to the term “out there.”
— Michael Abatemarco
HE WAS A KID OF THE ’60S AND WAS SO FASCINATED BY THE APOLLO PROGRAM AND WHAT IT MEANT FOR A WORLD IN TURMOIL, FOR A BRIEF MOMENT, TO COLLECTIVELY HOLD ITS BREATH AND WATCH THE MOON LANDING.
— CHIEF CURATOR IRENE HOFFMAN
Mars Excursion Roving Vehicle (MERV), 2010-2012; photo Gabriela Campos / The New Mexican