California is one of the key sites for the conception, design, and engineering of new space industries and companies, including satellite service providers, asteroid miners, Mars real-estate speculators, Jupiter moon ice raiders, gleaming-eyed astrobiologists working in labs building synthetic DNA to mail to other planets to grow food in anticipation of our subsequent arrival, and more. It is also the homeland of UFO buffs and xenophiliac cults eager to encounter and communicate with alien life, alien bodies, and alien intelligence. It is also where the fraught legal and symbolic status of “the alien” is a key part of the political subconscious.
In conjunction with Metahaven’s Lab project, Benjamin Bratton’s critical frameworks seminar will explore these correlations, coincidences, juxtapositions and opportunities. What does post-planetary California look like? How will we imagine the Alien that we’ll encounter? What does the search for “otherness” look like here on Earth? What are the parameters of extra-orbital communication design? How might the Search for Extraterrestrial Life lead us to our own backyards?
Keeping close relationships with Benjamin Bratton’s seminar, Metahaven’s studio class will involve itself with new visualizations of “the self and the alien.” Participating designers and artists will actively engage with this field of research; the outcome will be a visually captivating deliverable, which for every student should be in a natural yet ambitious relationship to the visual method developed through their works as yet.
Shouldn’t we be able to retrofit and re-edit the Voyager Space Disk just like Wikipedia articles get changed around every second by their users and editors? “The Sounds of Earth”—launched in 1977, supposedly aimed at an alien civilization that owns record players—wanted to be an abbreviated Encyclopedia Britannica about human civilization for Martians. Why now accept that this is who we are? Why can’t we change our astronomical record—and who exactly decides on how to represent “civilization,” and its others?
Further, aren’t we somehow inclined to meet our own alienness in our every daily lives as the film Under The Skin (2014) so aptly has demonstrated with its filming of unsuspecting males being picked up by alien invader Scarlett Johansson driving around in a minivan through Glasgow.
Finally, what exactly are the visual forms of space entrepreneurism? Arguably the point of Virgin Galactic, which never delivered on its promise to make space travel affordable for the global 1%, was image and branding. The deliverables from this studio will be decided for each participant by participants and instructors together, based on their proposed topic, visual method, and work process.