This week, I thought I’d share a few shorts featuring space suits or on some space-related theme. The first is Arriveby Elena Jil Osmann, the second is Starcrossed by Tactful-Cactus, and the final is The Lonely Astronaut by Benjamin Prichard. Each short has a different conception and distinct portrayal of space, but all have something to do with isolation. Isolation may not be the most optimistic territory, but it’s a persistent theme for a reason that I haven’t exactly figured out over the past year. My best guess is that space exaggerates physical isolation so that we easily understand the emotional isolation of some character. It is also surprising, even if it’s not novel, to ignore the technological wonder of space in favor of something that can be darker, more interesting or surprising.
It wasn’t my intention, but I spent this week teetering on the edge of bad taste–and I just may end the week covered in it. The week started with twobuildings that look great in photos, but have both been criticized by visitors as being poorly detailed. Then I made a lame joke about the weather in Canada, only to get the cold shoulder and sassy comment from a few of our northern friends. So, I’m taking this wobbly momentum to the work week’s finish line and posting about some absolutely iffy sci-fi illustrations.
The work is by illustrator Peter Tybus, who is obscure now even though he was quite a prolific illustrator in the ’70s. I’m a huge fan of his bizarre, colorful work even while I realize that it’s not for everyone. The surge of science fiction published in the 70’s featured covers that range from thinly-veiled ladyparts to more curious illustrations like the ones above. Which isn’t to pass judgement on scantily clad sci-fi creatures, everyone’s taste is different.
If you’re lucky enough to live in New York, get off your couch and walk down to the corner of Houston and Elizabeth to see an excellent mural by Nicholas Forker. The mural is based on a drawing of his (upper two images) and seen painted on the side of Rag & Bone in the lower image, with the artist, himself, acting as a scale figure.
The mural combines two themes: the astronaut in the everyday and the astronaut in street art, but his particular combination may owe more to street art. From Nicholas’ statement about his work: “Told by faceless astronauts embedded in the mundane, it is the story of the disenfranchised everyman. As the American dream fizzles in the face of unchecked corporate avarice and a culture of isolation pervades daily life, who is held accountable?” It seems to contrast the humor evident in his mural or even his personal motto: “Life is what you make of it.” Sadly, the mural is slightly too far away for me to walk and visit, so I’ll just sit on the couch and think about it.
Aside from being Cinco de Mayo, yesterday was also the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s inaugural orbit in space. Shepard was the first American and the second human to orbit in space, beat only by Yuri Gagarin a few weeks prior.
Shepard safely completed his 15½ minute flight and became an instant hero. He had sat in a nose cone on top of a Redstone rocket and been exploded into the atmosphere. He received accolades, parades, and met President Kennedy. His successful mission motivated the President to appear before a joint session of Congress just a few weeks later and challenge the country to send a man to the moon.
Here is a letter Shepard sent to his parents two years before his flight. He repeatedly uses the word “daddy” while telling about his upcoming trip to Washington for consideration in the Man in Space program. He, of course, would go on to become the first American in space and the fifth man on the moon. When asked what he was thinking about before his first launch into space, he replied “every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.”
I was surprised and delighted this week to learn about Nicholas de Monchaux, a Berkley-based architect and educator who has recently published his book Spacesuits: Fashioning Apollo. It certainly doesn’t surprise me that an architect would be interested in space suits, I’m just surprised (and slightly embarrassed) I haven’t stumbled across his book or research before this week. BLDGBLOG published an interview with De Monchaux about his new book, his interest in space suits and his architecture practice. An excerpt:
“One of the things I find most fascinating about the idea of the spacesuit is that space is actually a very complex and subtle idea. On the one hand, there is space as an environment outside of the earthly realm, which is inherently hostile to human occupation—and it was actually John Milton who first coined the term space in that context.
“On the other hand, you have the space of the architect—and the space of outer space is actually the opposite of the space of the architect, because it is a space that humans cannot actually encounter without dying, and so must enter exclusively through a dependence on technological mediation.”
It’s a great read. The interview pulls in a lot of ideas with which I am not terribly fluent (for instance, the relationship between astronauts and cyborgs) and there are plenty of fun facts. Did you know Playtex made space suits? Yes, Playtex: the brassiere-and-girdle maker. There was also a link between NASA and HUD, bolstered by the belief that “the same techniques that got us to the moon would also solve the problems of American cities.”
AND here’s an hour-long video of Nicholas giving a talk about all of this:
The first skeleton in a space suit I saw, I thought “that’s pretty strange” but after easily finding more my thoughts turned to “what is going on with all these skeletons in space suits?” Replacing the head of a brave hero with a skull speaks pretty loudly, but what exactly it says depends on the ear. I don’t tend to think that these are cynical moves, but can easily see why someone would say so. They could probably convince me of it.
To me, the images are ironic. With all of the technology it has taken for us to travel in vacuum of space, and with all of the legacy that travel has created for the men and women involved; as pioneering and brave an act it was— we are all still going to die. Okay, that does sound pretty cynical. But the point isn’t that we’re eventually going to die, but that we can accomplish a lot before we do die. Or maybe it’s something much more simple: space travel is dangerous. Or that even the bravest folks are fundamentally the same as us. I’m not sure, but I’m open to suggestions.
To me, these are some of the strangest space suit images. They beg many questions and answer virtually none.
Even though I lack the coordination to actually skateboard, I feel that these skateboard decks were made for me. The splendid illustration on them is by Shan Jiang. There’s a lot going on in his illustration– all on a level of detail that rewards stumbling through the details and closer scrutiny. One particularly foxy detail is the foxes drawn into the space suits. The foxes are orange (not black) and it is this level of imagination that I need to convince myself I’m not going to necessarily break my arm careening down a sidewalk atop such an alluring skateboard. Bone damage aside, I probably would be too afraid to hurt the skateboard. Whether flying down the sidewalk or flying above the atmosphere, traveling through space is dangerous.
Above are two illustrations from Viktor Koen, an illustration professor at Parsons– where he’s been teaching for 15 years. He grew up in Greece, started his education in Jerusalem and finished his education in New York. In an interview, Viktor says “growing up I made a valiant attempt to be an architect, and failed miserably. So I just decided to be an artist.” It’s reassuring that someone so obviously talented can arrive at their second-choice career path and excel. You may have seen his work already and not even have known: he’s illustrated for the New York Times, Esquire, Newsweek, and other publications that you may not care for as much, like Forbes or Money. If you’re like me, you don’t want to spend your free time feeling poor.
Viktor doesn’t always, or even usually, work with space imagery. But Viktor has been so prolific that it wasn’t hard to find two great illustrations with space suits. The upper image wasn’t found with an article about traveling to the moon and Mars, but I’m sure it originally appeared with an article about something similar. The lower image was found along with 2005 article in PopSci about rich people paying $100 Million dollars to travel to the moon with Russian cosmonauts “by 2010.” The author worries about “how billionaires will fare flying 500,000 miles in coach” and suddenly I can empathize with people who probably read Forbes or Money.