Space rocks Tom Sachs

TOM SACHS

Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

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

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