17th November

Why Mars?

OK, back to the digital elevation models and the problems I've encountered converting the data into a readable format for Terragen. I've been in touch with NASA artists responsible for visualizing this data and the bad news is that it took them years to resolve the same issues. While some past works have taken well over a year to produce, with the public presentation for this work scheduled to coincide with my solo exhibition next year at the NGCA, I don't have years in this case. In addition, this is just one aspect of the work; the realistic CGI models and animation of future spacecraft need to be crafted, as does the dust storm which happens to be the most difficult effect to achieve at a high standard on prosumer equipment, not to mention level of skill required to pull it off believably. So, while I'm not ruling out the use of the digital elevation data, working from images taken by various rovers I'm pressing on with creating the most believable Mars landscape that I can and with the assistance of my partner and animator Mark Jobe (Quay Animation Studios), moving onto creating the spacecraft / mission debris.

In other news, last night Northern Stars filmed each of the Pixel Palace artists-in-residence, interviewing us for three short documentaries they've been commissioned to produce. One of the questions that I was asked was "Why Mars?". I defaulted into a lame response as although I know why, I've not found the time to properly articulate it which often happens with new work as it's being produced. It's a good question though and one that I'll begin to answer a little better here.

Firstly, I don't make work about specific ideas; rather, they are always about a collection of ideas and interests with each work communicating a deliberate ambiguity which alludes to these interests. There are always numerous ways that the work can be read, each of which reflects these ideas in some way. I also don't work with narrative in a traditional sense having referred to it in the past as 'collapsed narrative', or so I thought. Recently though, it occurred to me that I am carving out a much larger narrative through the body of work I've produced over the years. In some ways, the work could be read - although not chronologically - as one situation influencing another.

So, how does "Mariner 9" sit within the work? The answer to this question answers "Why Mars?". Firstly, I am increasingly interested in science fiction and the visualization of potential if not probable futures. Albeit digitally, experiencing what life might be like should we continue down our current trajectory presents a window through which we can see ourselves with some measure of hindsight. "Mariner 9" presents a Martian landscape set some time into the future, scattered with the debris and partially functioning equipment from countless missions to Mars in search of understanding of the planet and perhaps most notably, signs of life. That search for life, to know that we're not alone in the universe is interesting on many levels but it's also an endearing endeavour, particularly for a species seemingly hell-bent on destroying the vast majority of life we know to exist as we continue to consume our planet at a truly alarming rate. ;) To begin to answer the question then, while presented with evidence of our beautiful, heartrending search for life beyond Earth – a perspective of which is effectively told from Mars, "Mariner 9" tragically suggests that you're viewing a post-humanity futurescape - a tension of which is characteristic of previous work: the contradiction of the beautiful with the unsettling, the sublime. Then again, perhaps it's not so grim. You'll have to wait until the next work for the answer to that.

One last note about the title that I’ve revealed here. “Mariner 9” was the first spacecraft to orbit another planet, transmitting back the first detailed images of the surface of Mars. A pretty appropriate title, I think. Click here for further information.

Some interesting recent and related Mars articles:
Spacewatch: the missions to Mars
The Curiosity Mission: Nukes in Space
Martian curse: Russian probe may crash in populated area
BBC: The Sky at Night, Curious about Mars


Image: Mars DTM image courtesy of the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment

Published: 17th November 2011