Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Tom Sachs’s American Bricolage and the Revised Logic of Space Travel

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Tom Sachs’s American Bricolage and the Revised Logic of Space Travel

Article excerpt

We go to Mars not to exploit the resources of a new planet, but to better understand our resources here on Earth.

Our Mars mission will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.

Tom Sachs, 20161

By the time we broke free of the earth's gravitational pull and set foot on luna incognita it was too late. After the sixth and last time US astronauts had taken and retaken Mankind's Giant Leap, those on earth remained perplexed as to the point of it all. The New York Times could offer no more than 'Meaning of Apollo: The Future will Decide'.2 Even the most cursory review of the reasons given as to why we needed to go to the moon rested on desires recycled from the Age of Exploration for more raw materials, space and power, or repeated from Sir Edmund Hillary: 'Because it's there'. When Apollo 11 set down on Tranquility Base, it might easily have been celebrated as the next great step forward, fulfilling Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's assessment that capitalist 'power finds the logics of its order always renewed and always re-created in expansion', but it wasn't.3 By the 1960s, expansion modelled on policing and then crossing borders, conquering territory and claiming resources, which had fuelled the modern European empires, was being questioned both in terms of its efficacy and its goals. Uprisings across the world challenged the colonialist status quo while post-modernist and post-structuralist theorists, Jean Michel Foucault and Jean-François Lyotard chief among them, redefined meaning, history and power to be the subjective products of cultural actions produced by human stakeholders. There were no inherent or a priori truths and there was no outside - history, society and selfhood were only ever determined from within. The oil crisis of the 1970s demonstrated that international corporate and extra-state organizations and not nations were shaping the map of global economics, and in the early 1990s US President Bill Clinton acknowledged the new state of global affairs by announcing: 'For the first time, there is no longer any difference between domestic and foreign.'4 The space race had been the most spectacular attempt to escape the ambiguous conditions of an increasingly borderless world and reassert the order and identities that labelling and crossing new frontiers had provided the modern age. The science was there to reach the moon, but NASA was not prepared to conquer the vast meaninglessness of space travel. New tools were required to determine what exploration still offered humanity and how we might investigate the world beyond our bodies, minds, personalities, cultures, even planets, without replicating the logic of colonialism. American Bricolage, the sculptural practice of US artist Tom Sachs, provides a model and a means for crafting such tools.

As the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing approaches, we are the future to whom the Times appealed, and while numerous artists have wrestled with the meaning of the space race, none has done so with the devotion and breadth of the New York-based sculptor Tom Sachs. On 8 September 2007, Sachs initiated his first terrestrial space flight, echoing the hubris and anxiety of the late 1960s by firmly planting a US flag on the lunar surface of the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles (fig. 1). The project was the result of years of research and labour with a team of collaborators including NASA engineers and astronauts. Using plywood, steel, aluminium and assorted electronics and found objects, Sachs and his assistants built the only open-frame, freestanding, 1:1 scale model of the original Lunar Exploration Module. Sachs's astronauts completed a training regimen and in fully operational space suits embarked on the mission, documented the flight, extracted soil samples, and returned home to examine, catalogue and present their findings. In 2012 Sachs Space Program 2.0 took the crew and additional vehicles to Mars and in 2016 they continued on to Europa. …

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