Exhibition review: Tom Sachs, "Space Program: Mars" at the Park Avenue Armory, New York

“Admirable Human Error, or What Drinking and Welding can Lead to.” Review of Tom Sachs solo exhibition Space Program: Mars at the Park Avenue Armory, New York, May 16 — June 17, 2012.

Published in Studija 85, no. 4 (2012).

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Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars, 2012. Detail. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Admirable Human Error, or What Drinking and Welding can Lead to

Excerpt:

Sachs’ Space Program is partly installation, but even more so theatre, or perhaps performance, with audience participation. The artist himself calls everything taking place at the Armory a “demonstration.” It doesn’t have viewers, but rather civilian witnesses. On the evening of my visit (24 May), the civilian witnesses saw astronauts getting prepared, putting on space suits, the checking of the entire system, the space ship lift-off and trip to Mars, the landing of a space module on the surface of Mars, astronauts getting out and collecting samples from the planet’s surface, and their successful return to Earth.

The seats for the civilian witnesses were on both sides of the huge Armory hall – white plastic chairs with the NASA logo (on the backs of which, in accordance with theatre and opera house tradition, one could read autographed names – Led Zeppelin and Michael Jackson etc.). Audio accompaniment was the continuous radio communication of Mission Control Centre (set up approximately like it is in films or serials of the relevant genre – with a wall covered by monitors), between the two female astronauts and a number of assistants. In their communications they used specific military–scientific jargon. Both astronauts regularly reported on how they were feeling and sought confirmation for each operation (“I request permission to proceed. Permission granted, proceed”), in addition to listening to commands and trying to carry them out. The civilian witnesses were issued with a list of the most frequently used acronyms: SAC was The Smiths Audio Cassette, VC –Visual Confirmation, VDS – Vodka Delivery System, MRL – Martian Receiving Lab and RBR – Red Beans & Rice, etc.

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Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars, 2012. Detail. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars, 2012. Detail. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars, 2012. Detail. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars, 2012. Detail. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars, 2012. Detail. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars, 2012. Detail. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars, 2012. Detail. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Tom Sachs, Space Program: Mars, 2012. Detail. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.