Since 2019, Fabiane M. Borges curates a research platform on Art and Space Culture at the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE). On the occasion of the 73d International Astronautical Congress in Paris, the Space Without Rockets publication and the Global Periphery symposium, she comes back on the last three years of the program. First part.
In the current historical moment we see a resurgence of interest in space as a way to expand the means of production, circulation and terrestrial knowledge. This requires more researchers and specialists committed to represent the regional interests of Latin America and the Global South. In this perspective we present space art and culture as a transdisciplinary field that has the task of awakening creative, imaginative and innovative aspects in the space area and technoscientific development. In industrially precarious countries like Brazil, it is necessary to give strength to inventive skills to innovate the field of space science and achieve new ways to guarantee research, autonomy and sovereignty. It is through the alliance between technosicentific knowledge, economic investment and cultural and social diversity that we can think of sustainable and even more powerful clean technologies. In this perspective, a series of art and space culture activities are being carried out at INPE. This hybrid field can generate news cosmicities, which can transform consumers into actors of technodiversity. We intend to use this series as a platform of reference to create a center of research in space art and culture at the institute. We analyze in this text six space art and culture process we are realizing at INPE 1) the curatorial and conceptual lines applied in the development of space art and culture projects at INPE; 2) the artistic residencies (2019-2022); 3) the ArtSat category (artistic satellites) in the CubeDesign satellite competition (2021); 4) the Workshops of ArtSats (2020/2021); 5) the First Album of Latin American cosmic Sounds (2021); 6) the Plutocracy on Pluto, summer course focused on astropolitics (2022). This text analyzes the methodologies used for the construction of these projects and its general applicability.
Curatorial and conceptual lines applied in the development of art and space culture projects at INPE
We have adopted in the space art and culture activities at INPE, a curatorial line that tries to promote the process of singularization constituted on the basis of critical thinking, decolonial studies and social and techno diversity. In search of building intersections between local knowledge and astropolitical events, we try to associate the terrestrial multiple perspectives to the orbital, solar, interplanetary and cosmic complexity.
We know that the harmful effects of colonization apply not only to macro-structural political phenomena, but also to subjective and micropolitical phenomena. The emotional and affective repertoires, as well as the linguistic and memorial characteristics of peoples are direct results of their environmental and historical matrices that manifest themselves in unique worldviews and experiences. When these singularities encounter the steamroller of Western colonial history, it is devastated (1). The consequences generated in Latin America in general and in Brazil in particular during the beginning of the colonial period until now are still not properly measured. The compulsory production of homogenization that extends from the colonial period until now, brings as an effect the precariousness of the future, since it does not guarantee a broad spectrum of references for the expansion of our productive intelligences, hindering the variety of research in the field of humanities and technoscience. These productive areas, instead of having broad and unrestricted access to cultural multiplicities, are restricted to monocultural rational models, impoverished by little variation in the senses of rationality, affectivity and experience, because they are based on a colonial, phallocentric, egocentric, capitalized culture, sustained by exploitative modalities, with little emotional amplitude and full of sexist and racial metaphors. In this way, ecological repertoires, world perspectives, emotional nuances, linguistic knowledge, and also technological developments that have not had the opportunity to flourish in the past are lost (yet, perhaps).
Our interest in these debates does not presuppose a return to ancestral primitivism, much less an uncritical adherence to globalism, but is located between (inter) planetary politics and cultural diversity of contemporary Latin America (and global south). We insist on these issues to collaborate in the construction of a future in which these historical injustices are repaired, in which the cultural diversity of the gender, race, and class minorities can be manifested through technological, scientific, theoretical, poetic, artistic artifacts, and so on. Contrary to this movement, we have on the other side the corporate massification system, which through the manipulation of science, technology and the media creates a machine of reproduction of colonial unconsciousness, that transforms the relations between human and nature into a treadmill of exploitation and expropriation, and prevents the autonomy of peoples to assert their own perspective on the world, nature, technology, and the future.
With the current geopolitical analysis, mainly scanned after the events that occurred in February 2022, with the occupation of Ukrainian territories by Russia, which publicly brought to light the need to change the logic of a polarized world to a possible multipolar era, where several nations are deeply thinking about their own sovereignty instead of submitting to a single dominant logic, we can understand more precisely the structure of the hegemonic thought so-called colonial or universalist, and what are the power networks that want to maintain it. The analysis of this geopolitical data allows us to understand more clearly that the projects considered inexorable within the capitalist, militarist machine, producer of the so-called universal subjectivity, are in reality organized by small conglomerates of financial and governmental groups that invest in technoscientific research for the production of their own profits, that with the domination of the media linked to political domination, determine the “scenarios of reality”, from a set of beliefs and values transformed into capital.
Countries like Brazil are bound to this so-called universal standardization, under constant threat of economic sanctions or military attacks by allied countries and corporations that have their own plans for the various “peripheral” regions of the world, the West, South America, Brazil. Local Brazilian industry is becoming precarious, because its “national vocation” is increasingly tied to the export of food and natural resources, because the technological safeguards, the restrictions for scientific production are actually determined from the articulation between corporate elites of the country itself and foreign corporate elites. These programs of economic alliances between national and international elites disregard national development projects because their interest is to generate profit for their own corporations. In other words, in the name of globalization, a universal set of elites is formed whose goal is to generate more profit and not to solve local social problems.
Thinking from localized knowledge (2) and not just accepting the great universalized and homogenized determinants is a way to safeguard the different perspectives that inhabit our planet, which directly interferes in the way we think and produce territory, technology, science, philosophy, art, and other possible or desirable worlds. But the conquest of this autonomy, in the historical references, has so far been achieved through much resistance, war, death, confrontation, genocide and murder, which puts, as a paradoxical effect, the entire arms industry in motion and consequently increases the profits of the war industry itself. It takes a lot of imagination to interrupt this logic.
Astropolitics and space culture hegemony
During the Cold War, in the space race, the world still divided its attention to a bilateral model (Soviet Union and the United States) and watched in this dispute, between state communism versus capitalist liberalism, two very different ways of thinking about the future among the stars. After the US made the first manned moon landings, the USSR continued to invest in the construction of the MIR (the first manned space station put into orbit). During this period, a series of cooperative space projects between the two powers began to take place, but by the end of the 1980s, the USSR began to weaken as a political, economic, and ideological project, and finally the union of Soviet socialist republics collapsed. The American liberal project became the new world empire project, and applied its liberal political ideologies to the space dream. The entire cosmology produced by NASA became a world reference, highly propagated to all corners of the globe, and these space dreams cradled the childhood dreams of billions of the world’s citizens. This NASA cosmology, built from the investment of several North Atlantic countries, was made possible by a large investment in the articulation between military and space science and technology and the use of cultural sectors such as education, media and arts (fine arts, design, cinema, documentary films, scifi literature, etc.). This articulation was fundamental to the construction of US cosmology and space culture from before the Apollos until the turn of the 2000s.
Today it seems that NASA is weakening as a national institution through the outsourcing of its work to the private sector, such as to companies like SpaceX and others, just as it begins to lose its hegemony to countries like China, which in turn is also investing heavily in the articulation between space science (military and civilian) and the cultural sectors (education, advertising, and art), thus building its own cosmology, its own version of the future of earthlings among the stars, based on its own space dreams. So when we talk about space culture, we are necessarily negotiating with hegemonic projects that drag along the research and industries of other countries, that seek to engage in the technologies already developed in order to be able to act in some way on the space scene, without being able to build structural differences in these hegemonies. But it is in this sense that we insist on acting with a research and production platform in the sector of space art and culture, because it has the capacity to produce social engagement, produce new proposals, build imaginaries, intervene in the homogenized symbolic universe.
Anthropocene of the Earth and Space
At a historic moment when humans are slowly realizing their form of production and consumption is exterminating the earth’s biodiversity, the use of resources is putting their existence at risk, and the international economic relations are far from bringing justice and social balance, space dreams gain another connotation. Celestial stars begin to be seen as a place of abundant resources. With this, scientific research accelerates its experiments and companies develop mechanisms to exploit the minerals, space law anticipate the problems arising from the use of these resources, medicine starts to do tests in microgravity to cure cancer and make genetic experiments, and food companies start to build their space planting projects. This is how part of the new world economy begins to migrate its interests to the solar system, what we have called in our meetings solar capitalism, which is the displacement of the same expansionist, colonial logic of exploitation and expropriation of resources to other planets. It is good to underline that we are not against human expansion towards the solar system, much less against human colonies or the use of extraterrestrial natural resources to potentiate terraforming on an interplanetary scale. The question is how we can interfere in the colonial logic so that it does not repeat its expansion in the same molds produced during European expansionism towards the Americas, which intends to promote without any shame a space feudalism or a solar plutocracy. It is at this point that art and space culture have much to contribute to break the structural hegemony of the new space projects, expanding the possibilities of occupation of the solar system in a creative, intuitive, imaginative and multidiverse way.
Denilson Baniwa, Letter to the indigenous people of the planet Mars with codes of recognition of the planet Earth, 2020
Produce difference and not only reproduce the same model in space art and culture
By adopting the vision of diversity, we are in a better position to think about transdisciplinarity. But this intersection between local diversity and astropolitical events is no easy task. We can speculate, for example, what this means when we think of the local complexities of the USA, Russia, China, Arab Emirates, India, the countries of Europe, Africa, Asia, Middle East, or right here in South America. Each one of these points disputes internal ideologies and carries in its baggage its own irreducibilities, its own historical traumas, its megalomaniac idiosyncrasies versus the history of the disempowered, its projects of power versus its religious fanaticisms, its crises of values and rights, and its local injustices. To confuse the production of diversity with a regionalist homogenization is a completely inconceivable idea. This is a naive utopia. Apparently the unique way to relate local diversities to the more neuralgic aspects of astropolitics and astroculture is to bet on historically effective skills of negotiation and diplomacy between various sectors of the society, in our case between varios sectores of space sciences and of art/culture, accessing creative spheres able to create and express, from practices such as transculturality e transdisciplinarity, what is most pulsating, controversial, complex, or even, disruptive or antagonistic to the massive domestication of our intelligence and our future. We have to act all the time in the interstices between space imaginaries and space hegemonies.
In this perspective, a series of art and space culture activities are being carried out at INPE from 2019 until now (end of 2022), which aims to advance in transdisciplinary research projects. This amalgam is capable of producing news cosmic thoughts in the country, which not only consumes but also generates technodiversity. We intend to use this series as a platform of reference to create a research core group in space art and culture.
Artistic residencies at PGETE/INPE and INPE & Society project – COEPE/DIEXC (2019-2022) (3)
The first activities we did at INPE were the artistic residencies. We advocated for artistic residencies at INPE for three reasons: 1) to create spaces for research in art and space culture; 2) construction of transdisciplinary fields between art and sciences; 3) expanding the spectrum of applicability of space technologies to other sectors of society.
The first resident artist of our platform SACI-E (Subjectivity, Art and Space Science) was the engineer, educator and artist Karina Karin (4) (11/2019), who developed the project “OriSat” (Ori: head in Yoruba – african Níger-Congo Language, Sat: Satellite), an afrofuturist satellite in cubesat format aimed at quilombola communities. Karina’s ArtSat makes reference to Afro-Brazilian ancestrality and to Afrofuturism as a cultural segment, its mission is food security and the care of soil, temperature and environment of the plantations in quilombola communities. The artsat is still in the building process, but it is being first tested at the State School Doutor Rodolfo Siqueira, from the City Hall of São Gonçalo / RJ, where Karina develops science education projects. The residency was under the care of PGETE/INPE, curated by the author of this text and supervised by Dr. Walter Abrahão dos Santos.
In February of 2020 was the turn of the artist Pitter Rocha (5) (UNIRIO) to go to the SACI-E art-residency, also an Afrofuturist artist, who sonified the CBERS 04A data. The CBERS (China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite) program was implemented in 1988 through a partnership between the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST), in a binational technical and scientific agreement involving Brazil and China. The CBERS 04A satellite is an Earth observation satellite, the result of a Sino-Brazilian agreement launched on December 20, 2019, is the successor to CBERS-4, launched on December 7, 2014. Resident artist Pitter Rocha was the first artist to operate with the CBERS 04A data, a month after its launch, turning it into a musical document. The presentation of his work were demonstrated in the lectures of the 1st Workshop of ArtSat of INPE (6). The residency was also under the care of PGETE/INPE, curated by the author of this text and supervised by Dr. Walter Abrahão.
The third artist in residency at SACI-E was Zander Porter (7). In March 2022, the artist, choreographer and performer from Amsterdam University of the Arts (DAS Choreography) performed his work under the title “3MOT1NG”, also known as somatic cyborg. The work consists of the translation in the form of gestures and choreographed movements, the affections that the encounter between human and technology arouse, the artist transforms the strangeness and human subjugation to the machine, into performance. Zander’s artistic work at INPE was to conduct an experiment in the architecture of the anechoic chambers of the LIT (Test and Integration Laboratory), proposing to transform his body into a satellite under test, deflagrating the solitude of this body in a hostile and machinary environment. Accustomed to working in groups, the artist put himself to the test by investigating alone the extremely silent environment of the cameras and with live video recordings built the structure of his choreography. It was the first residency done under the care of COEPE and DIEXC/INPE, curated by the author of this text and supervised by Dr. Paulo Escada.
In our analysis, the residencies showed positive results, because despite being experimental and with no financial support from INPE, the institution provided support for receiving the artists and making available equipment and laboratories, as well as academic supervision for the researchers artists, who were able to produce works related to INPE’s space science program. The two first residencies were produced by the Space Engineering and Technology sector, and the third was produced buy INPE & Society (COEPE/DIEXC) but many other areas are willing to receive research artists, such as the astrophysics sector, advanced mathematics, remote sensing, terrestrial systems, among others. The goal is to expand the area of access for artist-in-residencies in the future. Some more artistic residencies were planned for 2022 and 2023, however, due to the pandemic the process was more restricted and slow.
ArtSat, Space Art, nanosatellite, space junk, (research in our greatest tool)
There is a great fear in relation to small satellites because of their durability and the ease with which they become space junk. Furthermore, the large undertakings in this area are being made by megacorporations that launch constellations of small satellites at once, thus changing the orbital traffic and dominating its use. When we join the small satellite project, we do so because this technology democratizes orbital use for developing countries that are not able to compete with the production of large scale satellites. Small satellites facilitate access to space science and technology, disseminate knowledge, and involve space engineering sectors with other fields of knowledge. Universities, schools, institutions and companies in the countries of the global south have shown increasing interest in small satellites in recent years. This is due to the accessibility and cheapening of resources. When we defend the creation of small artistic satellites (ArtSats), we do it in the name of access to research and at the same time, to guarantee representativeness and legitimacy in the space sector. The issue of space junk must be seen as a problem of the satellite components, which must be increasingly natural and less harmful, and for the treatment of waste, nowadays there are a number of efficient projects that aim to strongly reduce the space junk produced by the space industry, but still with little investment. These projects need to have more financial support to be properly tested and finally used. In order to work exactly in the interstices of these problems, we have opened the ArtSat programs, as a field of research and action in this sense.
But what is an ArtSat? ArtSat is an abbreviation for Satellite Art (8). It is an artifact that combines satellite engineering with artistic techniques. The quality of an ArtSat is related to the utility of its payload, but also to its materiality, the nature of its components, and its form. Beyond the requirements of space engineering, the characteristics of an ArtSat also manifest themselves in its poetic attributes. An ArtSat is the materialization of a “hybrid language” that articulates technoscience with the sensitive dimension in the same object, besides being an instrument of investigation, research and deepening technoscientific, artistic and cultural knowledge, as exemplified by Karina Karim’s OriSat satellite, whose mission, as mentioned above, is to operate with food security in quilombola communities, joining aesthetic and conceptual aspects of Afrofuturism and at the same time determining a social utility to the object.
Every satellite has a mission. So does an ArtSat. An ArtSat’s missions aggregate content that concerns also to the fictional and speculative dimensions, which has the power to affect sensibilities and futures. It is in our interest to open spaces for the creation of satellites whose mission is driven by afrofuturistic, ecological, indigenous, handcrafted proposals, that is, we want to potentiate the construction of satellites that don’t exist or have even been imagined. ArtSats are technical devices whose aesthetic freedom promotes other problems and challenges for space engineering, which can leverage research in the area in ways not yet foreseen. This allows us to broaden the panorama about the new Space Race that emerges in contemporaneity, urging us to build a proper place for space occupation. In other words, it allows us to create concrete tools of action to deal with the great problems of our time related to the terrestrial, atmospheric and space environment, phenomena inherent to satellite technology research, without, however, abandoning the symbolic and futuristic production, which are generators of new worlds.
ArtSat Category in the CubeDesign (9)
CubeDesign is an annual event organized since 2018 by INPE’s Postgraduate Program in Space Engineering and Technology (PGETE). The initiative brings society closer to the development of small satellites in a competitive environment. In 2018 and 2019 participants from several institutions from different Latin American countries participated in the competition to perform all the tests required to launch a small satellite into space: environmental test, environmental pressure, thermal variation, voltage, battery temperature, vibration, random test, telemetry, suitability check, mission, communication, remote control, mechanism, battery conditioning, altitude determination, stabilization system, imaging, etc. The three categories in 2018 and 2019 were CubeSat, CanSat, Mockup. In 2020 and 2021, due to the pandemic, the competition was virtual, and even with restricted access to satellite testing, was successfully launched in 2021 the Data Science and ArtSat category (10).
In 2021 we launched for the first time the open call for the ArtSat (11) category, obtaining the participation of two competing teams: the team “Book of life” (transdisciplinary group created by the participants of II Workshop of ArtSat/2020), and the team “The shape in Space” of the State School Humberto de Campos of Sorocaba. For orientation, analysis and decision about the score of each team, we formed an advisor team with artists and engineers: Juan Diaz Infante (Ulysses I Satellite / Mexico), Lucas Bambozzi (Art and Technology / FAAP / Brazil), Mariana Paredes (Kosmica Institute / Mexico), Bruno Vianna (Brazilian from the Academy of Fine Arts / University of the Arts Helsinski (FI), Italo Pinto Rodrigues (Space Engineering / INPE / Brazil), Gabriela Junqueira (Space Engineering / INPE). The participants submitted their project files and after two weeks made the oral presentation of the project to the advisors (22/11/2021). They had 10 more days to deliver the reworked projects. Both teams were able to develop their project materially, the second place team “The Shape in Space ” launched their experiment with an atmospheric balloon a few days after the end of the competition in December 2021. The first place team “The Book of Life” is launching their experiment in orbit via SpaceX in late 2022, supported by the Mercosul Biennial. But the satellite changed its name, it is now called “Orbital Temple”. Its mission is to ask for names of dead people who have to be in heaven – “Who shall enter heaven? You tell me”. Orbital Temple is the first orbital satellite from the Global South with an artistic mission.
Both teams made an interesting ArtSat project. They not only managed to resolve the demands of an ArtSat competition, but were also able to build their own strategies to launch their space artifacts.
The awarding and closing ceremony of CubeDesign / 2021 was held with all the teams from all categories and had the (virtual) presence of coordinators from INPE and other institutions, as well as technology companies and supporters. In total there were about 150 participants, 18 of which were ArtSat teams. The participants of the competition were from several states in Brazil and many countries in Latin America. The video of the awards can be seen on CubeDesign’s youtube channel (12).
We consider the competition of high quality due to the generosity of the CubeDesign organization team, the attention given to the ArtSat category, the quality of the ArtSat’s works, and the performance of the advisor’s group. Our intention is to maintain the ArtSat category in this competition for the next years.
Read second part of the report.
Space Without Rockets, ed. Rob La Frenais, Ewen Chardronnet, UV Editions, August 2022.
Global Periphery, Contemporary Imaginaries of Space, Multiple Voices – A Hybrid Conference. September 23-24 at Cité internationale des arts, Paris. Global Periphery is organised by Leonardo/Olats and part of More-Than-Planet (2022-2025), co-funded by the Creative Europe program of the European Union.
Disclaimer: This is the perspective adopted by researcher Fabiane M. Borges during the period in which she worked in the implementation of art and space culture projects at INPE, but this narrative is personal and does not represent the National Institute of Space Research or the current Federal Government of Brazil.