Peak of Eternal Light (artefacts)

As we currently dive into a new era of colonisation and exploitation of celestial bodies, the ‘Moon Village’ —a new open collaborative robotic and human presence on the Moon— has been proposed by ESA’s new Director General as the next possible step in space exploration, the International Space Station being eventually decommissioned in 2024 and Mars being a far too distant goal for human spaceflight yet.

Our fascination with the Moon dates back to the most ancient and primitive civilisations. A key element in mythologies of every culture, the connection with our closest celestial neighbour has always been a fascinating and mysterious one. The cadence and consistency of the lunar cycles, its delicate light and its changing appearance have hypnotised us for millennia, even after nearly five decades since the first man set foot on the Moon.

Oddly enough, when appointed Artist in Residence at the European Space Agency ESA in 2016, Jorge Mañes Rubio decided to explore a more anthropological and even spiritual approach when addressing a potential future human presence of the Moon as part of his current art project ‘Peak of Eternal Light’. Reimagining a future lunar settlement as a great opportunity to represent an infinity of cultures, nations and values, Rubio decided to revisit our past, looking for the traces that make us all human no matter where we come from in space or time.

Joining ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team provided Rubio with the raw substance for modelling environments and creating experiences that he couldn’t have imagined before, his first research bringing up more questions than answers: what are the motivations and needs of new space civilizations going to be? What sort of rituals, aesthetics and new cultural artefacts will be created? When someone is born on the Moon, what culture will he grow into and develop?

Instead of seeing it as just a potential site for groundbreaking scientific discovery, sci-fi tourism or the lucrative exploitation of extraterrestrial natural resources, Rubio chose to look at the Moon as a universal and mythical idea. The Moon, unlike Earth, has no boundaries, no divisions, no nations. Do we have a right to change that? 

Peak of Eternal Light focuses on traces of ancient forgotten civilizations reimagined by modern society with the Moon as an alternative future landmark. In this attempt to create a new human civilization on a lunar settlement, the artist fulfills the universal desire of venturing beyond Earth into the endless expanse of space. The project may also be seen as an interplanetary archaeological journey: retracing the indigenous communities of the past and inquiring into the origins of human existence, while looking ahead to the future within the perpetuity of time and space.

This new series of artworks features materials that are solely used for manufacturing satellites, spaceships and other aerospace purposes, such as the iconic golden vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film and moon dust (lunar regolith simulant) that ESA is currently using to prepare astronauts for future lunar missions. These objects answer specific sacred and spiritual rituals to be held on the Moon. Inspired by the concept of the ‘Moon Village’, these new artworks merge strong ethnographic influences from past cultures with futuristic aesthetics, reimagining our legacy as human species in a potential interplanetary future. 

“While visionary concepts such as the Moon Village help us to rethink potential futures and our actions to realise them, art allows us to put them into perspective, and recall their human elements”, adds Leopold Summerer, head of the ACT. “Jorge has made a beautiful bridge between ethnography and space exploration, by imagining future empirical evidence from a ‘Moon Village culture’.”

 

Untitled #1 (Vessel)

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 20x18x17cm

Vapor deposited aluminum aerospace film on lunar regolith simulant

After decades of isolation, the inhabitants of the Moon Village start developing a certain sense of common identity. They start making intricate objects with a special agency, objects whose function transcends physical interaction. They used local resources such as moon dust and the iconic golden aerospace materials to create magnificent pieces. With an erratic shape that resembles the lunar surface itself and a precious interior, we can only imagine the purpose of this mysterious lunar artefact. Who knows, this vase might tell us a story of the supernatural, a tale of immortality.

 

Untitled #3 (Protection)

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 95x36x7cm

Vapor deposited aluminum aerospace film and lunar regolith simulant

This neckpiece, carefully crafted from compressed Moon dust and aerospace materials, is believed to be one of the first objects created by lunar settlers. Due to its large size and weight, it was probably aimed to be worn only during very specific occasions. While its function remains unclear, the piece was definitely created to fulfil sacred and spiritual needs. The object was passed on through different generations of Moon Village inhabitants, and it was believed that it could help restore cosmic balance or provide protection to whoever wore it.

 

Untitled #6 (Afterlife)

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 22x20x5cm

Vapor deposited aluminum aerospace film on lunar regolith simulant

Masks have played an important role in many ancient civilisations from planet Earth. They were worn by shamans, rulers, dancers or important personalities, in many cases even accompanying them to the grave. Most were worn for important celebrations, burial rituals and transformation rites, where the mask would confer mystical powers or serve as a gateway to a parallel dimension. Burial masks were commonly used among Moon Village inhabitants to honour the deceased and secure the departing spirits with a safe passage to the afterlife. Masks were carefully crafted in moon dust featuring the faces of the deceased and covered with golden aerospace materials to protect them on their next journey.

 

Untitled #8 (Courage)

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 16x19x5cm

Vapor deposited aluminum aerospace film on lunar regolith simulant

This female mask reveals some of the most intricate decorative arts that flourished during the first civilisations on the Moon. The absence of gold deposits on the lunar surface turned into another great opportunity for the Moon Village inhabitants to show their immense creativity. Aerospace materials coming from abandoned cargo landers are reused by lunar goldsmiths to create new pieces. Some of these precious artefacts —such as the nose and ear ornaments in this example— certainly reminisce of pre-Columbian cultures, speaking of a sacred human fascination for gold. This particular mask was created to honour the courage of a woman who located cold traps inside the perpetual darkness of the lunar craters. Water ice collected inside these traps can be transformed into drinking water, oxygen and rocket fuel, turning it into the most valuable lunar resource. Only a few humans on the Moon developed a certain intuition that help them locating cold traps in situations where scientific instrumentation is of little use. This mask and its ornaments —symbolically featuring water drops— celebrate this woman’s generosity, depicting her with her eyes closed and mouth open in an expression of ecstasy.

 

Untitled #9 (Loyalty)

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 113x54x10cm

Vapor deposited aluminum aerospace film, brass, lunar regolith simulant

This massive pectoral appears to be an armour used in combat but is in fact a symbol of power and distinction reserved only for a capable lunar shaman. It reveals some of the anthropological complexities from the first civilisation on the Moon. In a world dominated by extremely harsh life conditions, humans turned to the vastness of the universe and their own spiritual realm as a mechanism to transcend the absence of life on the Moon. In an existence dominated by rigorous technological dependence and artificial nature, a new coming of shamanic practices fostered a greater connection to the cosmos and a deeper appreciation of the essential human dimension. Lunar inhabitants considerably expanded their knowledge of the universe, but at the same time acquired a greater understanding of the ethical challenges inherent in the conquest of celestial bodies. Only a handful of individuals that showed an ability to serve as a bridge between humans and the cosmic gods were endorsed with the responsibility of conducting important rituals at the Moon Temple and delivering valuable oracles. Their loyalty to the wellbeing of the community and their spiritual vocation was unquestionable.

 

Untitled #7 (Trade)

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 16x32x3cm

Vapor deposited aluminum aerospace film, lunar regolith simulant

Dependence from planet Earth —except energy easily harvested from the sun— was a norm during the first decades of existence of the lunar settlement. Moon Village inhabitants worked hard to achieve certain self-sufficiency in terms of food, oxygen and water supplies, but they still relied on cargo being dropped every week from the terrestrial landers. The lack of material goods on the Moon didn’t stop locals to start trading. Instead it created a completely new submerged lunar economy where goods were replaced by human skills. Lunar citizens would offer their talents, ranging from a particular technical knowledge to storytelling, dancing, or spiritual healing in exchange for a similar future return. Commerce was based on trust, and these mysterious objects were exchanged as a symbolic currency to represent this trust between families and clans. 

 

Untitled #2 Yellow Gold (Reflection) & Untitled #2 Copper Gold (Reflection)

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 120x90cm

Vapor deposited aluminum aerospace film on canvas

Several layers of aerospace film are stretched and placed over what appears to be an irregular surface or canvas. The result is a bursting and glowing surface, reminiscing of a powerful solar eruption. This phenomenon, usually accompanied by coronal mass ejections, occasionally results on spectacular auroras on planet Earth. On the Moon though, devoid of atmosphere and magnetic field to deflect radiation, these storms might not be fatal but have certainly been feared since the first human settlements. We can assume that this piece served as a visual reminder to the Moon Village inhabitants of these beautiful yet devastating solar events.

 

Untitled #10 (Memory) 

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 165x200cm

Wool & Acrylic blend

This large blanket was found on the Moon, although it was most probably woven on Earth by the family of an early human lunar settler. During the early stages of the Moon Village program, astronauts were sent to the south pole of the Moon for long periods of time. The adaptation to microgravity and the harsh lunar conditions were always a struggle for the first inhabitants, prone to feeling homesick and lonely a few months after their arrival. Contact with other fellow astronauts was sometimes rare since many of them were sent together with their robotic partners on a mission to map the nearby dark craters in search for vital water ice. Families of the astronauts probably started weaving these blankets before a relative would depart, hoping that they would warm and comfort the astronauts on their journey. Their colourful design incorporated both elements from their life back on Earth and their future assignment on the Moon. This particular piece depicts an astronaut’s favourite musical instrument, a golden crown from Indonesian origins and the United Nations emblem among some other symbols.

 

 

Untitled #4 (Solitude)

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 120x46x10cm

Vapor deposited aluminum aerospace film and lunar regolith simulant

Shaped in what seems to be a shield with strong ethnographic influences, this object is used in complex dances and rituals among the Moon Village inhabitants. Living in a tough environment where human contact is scarce, solitude is the most common enemy among the lunar citizens. Therefore this and other similar objects are used in celebrations, where people can acquire a majestic presence, gathering, dancing, and breaking free from their monotonous and harsh daily activities.

 

Untitled #5 (Play)

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 16x12x5cm

Vapor deposited aluminum aerospace film 

This particularly small mask is believed to belong to a Moon Village child. It was probably used as a role-play artefact, through which the younger generations could learn about important sacred lunar rituals. 

 

 

 

Untitled #11 (Mediators)

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 160x237cm, 160x250cm

Vapor deposited aluminum aerospace film 

“For my exhibition at Barakat Seoul I completed onsite two new pieces. They are heavily inspired by the teachings of Korean shamans, and my experience working with them. These folding and cutting pieces were once described to me by a shaman as ‘chairs for the gods’, made by the shamans themselves and displayed during their rituals.

 

The Message, video still

 

The Message, video still

 

The Message, video still

 

The Message, video excerpt 

 

The Message at Victoria & Albert Museum, London

 

The Message

From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. Dimensions variable, 26min

Digital film

In ‘The Message’ the artist presents original footage from NASA’s Apollo Moon missions in a new light. The work addresses the role of mankind in the colonization of celestial bodies while at the same time advocates for a deeper and more spiritual connection with the cosmos.

In 1969 the first man set foot on the Moon, in what was arguably the most important human achievement of the XXth Century. Today, almost 50 years later, the event is still regarded by many —not without a dose of nostalgia— ­­­as the climax of a bygone golden space exploration era, but also as a hoax by a few conspiracists. In his video installation, Rubio pairs this impressive footage with entrancing rhythms and songs from Native American traditional music. This odd combination gives the installation a sacred dimension, where the scientific and the spiritual are blended together. The ethereal footage pulls us into the unknown while the music and the chanting elevate the mystical dimension of it. Rubio also deliberately decides to edit out any visible trace of astronauts, putting the spectator on the pilot’s seat of humanity’s greatest journey.

The idea of combining these images and music came to the artist after reading a story —of dubious veracity—where, months prior to the first lunar landing, an elder Navajo man encounters the Apollo XI crew while training in a desert near Cinder Lake, Arizona. After knowing of their intentions to land on the Moon, the man asks the crew to deliver a message to the spirits that he and his people believe inhabit it. He intentionally delivers the message in his native tongue, so only after the astronauts return to their base and find an interpreter they are able to decipher this message: “Don’t trust a word these white people are telling you. They’re here to steal your land.”

Footage courtesy of the US Defense Visual Information Distribution Center.
Recordings provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

 

Installation view at Barakat Seoul 

 

Installation view at Barakat Seoul 

 

Installation view at Barakat Seoul 

 Installation view at Barakat Seoul 

 

Installation view at Barakat Seoul 

 

Installation view at Barakat Seoul 

 

 

Peak of Eternal Light has been created by Jorge Mañes Rubio as artist in residence at the European Space Agency ESA