In light of the recent and stunning images of Pluto taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager from a distance of 280,000 miles, we are reminded that the galaxy is a visually stunning place, but also a place where – in fact – art already exists, not only on our planet – but now on another. Art history and science history combined in January of this year to create a genuine piece of human history, that went surprisingly unnoticed.
A spot painting created by ‘Young British Artist’ and one-time Enfant Terrible Damien Hirst made it into space in 2003 – a colour calibration chart destined for a scientific experiment – was a commissioned design, aboard the first British Mars lander, set to be the first ever to touch down on another planet.
The work originally made art history as the first contemporary art in space, but failed to reach its destination of Mars, when all contact was lost with the British probe, which was set to land on the red planet on Christmas day of 2003. But after a new discovery in January it would seem that Damien Hirst’s spot painting had landed in its final gallery after all, which in this case will be windy, freezing, and lit by two moons.
Of Professor Colin Pillinger’s request for Hirst to create the work to travel to Mars, at the time the artist stated: “He said a spot painting would work really well for this thing we need,” Hirst went on. “He only wanted a dot painting so I didn’t really have a lot of leeway. I had to make a decision whether to let him have one or not.” Professor Pillinger added that cows were too heavy.
In January it was confirmed that the British Beagle 2 spacecraft had landed successfully on Mars’ surface, David Parker, the chief executive of the UK Space Agency has confirmed. Images show that the British Beagle 2 space probe landed successfully on Mars 12 years ago. David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University, said the images prove that the spacecraft’s lander successfully touched down on the red planet in 2003, but that a malfunction prevented it from beaming information back to Earth.
The artist wasn’t Earth’s only outer space cultural export on the Beagle 2. A recording by Blur was also onboard the probe and it was set to play on repeat for 180 days.
Hirst shared his delight at hearing that Beagle 2 has been found, and tweeted that he “can’t believe” that the painting he had on board the missing spacecraft is now residing on Mars. A fact that surely must go down in art history as the first art on another planet.
The work by Hirst has made significant history, both culturally and scientifically; and shares a parallel with the Pioneer plaques that are a pair of anodised aluminium plaques which were placed on board the 1972 Pioneer 10 and 1973 Pioneer 11 spacecraft, featuring a pictorial message, in case either Pioneer 10 or 11 is ever intercepted by extraterrestrial life while traveling through space – and of course the Voyager golden records.
That there exists on another world, a piece of art that shares a richness of cultural history that ties it so indelibly to the Earth, and the Earth to Mars – as it was always thought important for astronauts to be present in space to convey its majesty to the people of Earth – we now have more than science on another world – more than amazing images of far-away planets – but a small part of our cultural history, and our art has made it to another planet before we even set foot on it, or in fact any. A fact that should inspire the imagination of not only artists and astronauts alike, but the entire world.
Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2015 all rights reserved