Space Suit of the Week

Tim Hamilton Space Suit

Tim Hamilton Space Suit

This week’s suits were drawn by Tim Hamilton.

Over the past sixtyish weeks my enthusiasm about Space Suit of the Week has fluctuated, trending downward as I increasingly feel like I’m beating a dead astronaut. Bobby and I recently decided it was time to start brainstorming about what will replace Space Suit of the Week when the series ends, so you may see a few randoms-of-the-week as this ship of space suits sets sail and we test the waters with whatever floats-your-boats next.

Today, my enthusiasm for Space Suit of the Week is quite high, thanks to a generous write up in LA Weekly about both the Fox is Black and Space Suit of the Week. LA Weekly decided that the blog is the “Best Highbrow Art” blog and that Space Suit of the Week is a “mediation on technology and human progress.” I’m flattered by the kind words and recognition, and thought I would explain how Space Suit of the Week came about, as I try to articulate an argument I’ve been building in my head about why designers should not be afraid of or bored with science.

It wasn’t until after I graduated college and had been working for a while that I realized something quite obvious: people use science to explain things. This became clear while sitting under the dome of the planetarium show “Centered in the Universe” at Griffith Observatory (the observatory is one of my favorite places in LA.) Watching the animations about our evolving understanding of celestial bodies– from their personification as mythical deities all the way to current investigations into dark matter– I realized this shift from a belief in myth to a trust in science has occurred across many, if not most, areas of the unknown.

Around the same time, I also realized that I had unfairly let my high school chemistry teacher inform my attitude toward the entire array of scientific fields. I did OK in the high school science classes I was required to take, but never enjoyed them as much as much as art classes. At the time, I mistakenly believed science was simply not creative. From my perspective, nothing was creative about the worksheets and homework I was assigned. So even though I thought science was kind of interesting, I never considered that scientists could be creative people or that I could enjoy studying science.

I was wrong.

I had a pretty narrow view of what it meant to be creative. Maybe I was able to see this because I was frustrated while working as a “creative professional” in architecture and was kind of in awe with these bizarre prototypes of space suits that I found in an old science book. The first Space Suit of the Week was about a suit in this book I found and I wanted merely to describe one curious result of serious scientific conjecture. Over the course of writing about the Grumman Moon Suit, not only did the creativity of the suit’s form became apparent but also another level of creativity: the thinking of the engineers working on these suits. Creativity happens in two steps: analysis and synthesis. For me, the analytical ability of scientists often overshadows the creativity it takes to synthesize (sometimes) absurd hypotheses.

Space Suits have provided obvious examples of scientific conjecture that appears irrational; at the same time space suits have been floating around in pop culture and creative output for decades. And space suits are interesting for people in scientific and artistic arenas for different reasons; for me, personally, both are interesting. I happened to discover my interest in science late and the awe that I had for wonky space suits has built a bridge, becoming an affinity for the scientific inquiry that informed them. Still, I am not a scientist and the audience for this blog is largely more interested in design and art than in chemistry and physics. I’ve been trying to bait you guys with space suits over the past year that you may cross the same bridge, to see what I didn’t before– that you might not have the same myopia that I did.

Science explores the unknown, but more importantly it attempts to explain it. The curiosity you have as a designer runs parallel to the curiosity that science relies on. On many different scales, both believe that they can somehow improve where we live, how we relate to the world, or how we  enjoy our expanding universe. Honestly, I still don’t enjoy chemistry as much as I like other areas… but that’s only one area of science. You may be surprised to discover your own love of physics or physiology. It takes creativity to imagine your future, just don’t be afraid to imagine yourself designing experiments instead of designing posters, pants, parks or pavilions.


June 10, 2011