SPACE IN THE FEMININE

Russian and U.S. film industries recently got involved in a rivalry regarding the release of a film, several scenes of which were filmed in the International Space Station (ISS). Even if the ISS has often served as a model for various film scripts since its putting into orbit in 1998, this is the first time that the film crews had the privilege of going inside one of the modules to film in zero gravity conditions. Alongside space tourism, which has become accessible for the ultra-rich of our planet, mainstream cinema will soon provide film enthusiasts with the opportunity of seeing their stars strut their stuff in an unprecedented décor located about 400 km above our heads.

On the Russian side, the film’s leading role was entrusted to Yuliya Peresild, while for the Americans, Tom Cruise was the star of choice. Having gotten ahead of the American production by several days and favoured a woman in the leading role, the Russians in a sense commemorated Valentina Tereshkova’s exploit, the first woman astronaut to have orbited the Earth, in 1963, aboard the spaceship Vostok 6. After this low orbit flight, carried out two years after Yuri Gagarin’s feat, Tereshkova was to become the standard bearer of the Soviet regime and the symbol of woman’s liberation in the socialist world. The rivalry with the U.S., characterized by the term “cold war,” was thus equally transposed onto the field of the Soviet regime’s superiority regarding the emancipation of women, the goal of which appears to be the liberation of chores associated with domestic space.

But, one must admit that this Soviet propaganda about feminist modernity remained under the thumb of an authoritarian state. On both sides, these two regimes with their opposed political ideologies, at their outset showed little enthusiasm concerning the presence of women in space. In the U.S., the Mercury 13 project, whose goal in 1961 was to train 13 women to go to the Moon, was quickly brushed aside by NASA. Despite the statistical data that demonstrated the equal capacity of women to undertake this type of mission, this project could not be carried out in full. In the history of space conquest, it is the Apollo adventure that one remembers, the program which provided 12 men with the opportunity of walking on the Moon. Henceforth, the politico-military rivalry that these two superpowers engaged in too often sidelined other aspects of our capacity to imagine our relation to the extraterrestrial world. Of course, fundamental research on the origin of the universe, supposedly neutral, will always be important, but can the aspiration to imagine the cosmos not generate other possible visions relying on various cultural sensibilities?

Often confined to visions dictated by military and commercial interests, the history of space programs seems, in fact, restricted to the imperial and economic domination of global superpowers. However, this thematic issue of ESPACE art actuel was put together in an entirely different perspective. Edited by Marie-Pier Boucher, this issue, entitled Space Feminism, gathers various texts that seek to repopulate the space imaginary with artistic projects constructed according to feminist perspectives. Though the European Space Agency, in collaboration with Mattel Inc., maker of the famous Barbie doll, may try their best to seduce a new generation of young girls with a toy featuring astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, this issue aims primarily to broaden the debate towards societal issues. While Jessica Ragazzini’s text attempts to highlight the influence of space adventures in the lucrative world of the high-fashion industry, along with that of international music and film stars, it also underscores the efforts of Dutch fashion designer and artist Iris van Herpen to inscribe her creations as part of feminist and ecological demands.

Relying on less spectacular artistic approaches, the texts by Lexington Davis, Michael DiRisio and Evan Moritz, albeit differing in their styles and choice of works, denounce all forms of imperialism and colonialism from multiple perspectives. Under the auspices of a uniform discourse about space conquest, they criticize an extraterrestrial world that is viewed as being but a reflection of the socio-political situation of our planet with its flagrant inequalities, its deep rifts between the aspirations of some vis-à-vis others and our ways of dreaming the universe. In referring notably to the group Black Quantum Futurism, to D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem, Hito Steyerl, Carey Young and Nuotama Frances Bodomo, it is about reconquering outer space through artistic propositions that diverge from the dominant discourse. Long imagined according to myths and legends, and nowadays understood according to the results of scientific research based on data from powerful astronomical telescopes, space nevertheless remains, as Marie-Pier Boucher points out, “a critical territory that presents itself to us as an invitation to reconsider the present and future of contemporary terrestrial societies.”

Consequently, many of these artists seek to break the mould of the patriarchal monopoly. This is the case for Bodomo who, in her short film, recalls a humorous anecdote linked to a unique program to travel to the Moon imagined by a member of the Zambian resistance. The Black Quantum Futurism collective also springs to mind here, whose Black Space Agency (2019) installation demands, in fictional terms, “Black spatial and temporal autonomy.” In this vein of producing art projects based on feminist perspectives, there is also the Radio Amatrices collective. Radio Amatrices, composed of four artists of different nationalities, proposes to use amateur radio to appropriate a field of communication long reserved for men. Their contribution can be read as a manifesto that encourages the creation of communities of artists from different backgrounds. They invite us to consider radio as a technology and a means of communication that can offer a “space in the making.”

This space in the making also counts, obviously, on a transformation of our shared life on this planet, our only true home. Fiona Annis’s article underlines this by recalling the project of the Museo dell’Altro e dell’Altrove di Metropoliz—the Museum of the Other and the Elsewhere—located in a derelict industrial building in Rome; a museum that brings together a community composed of a diverse population motivated mainly by the dream of going to live on the Moon, but which attempts to realize it here and now on Earth. Two short interviews, one conducted alone by Marie-Pier Boucher and the other in collaboration with Annick Bureaud, conclude this thematic issue. The first is the result of a dialogue with Michelle S. A. McGeough about Aboriginal cosmology. To do so, McGeough refers to the work She Falls for Ages (2016), a machinima by the artist Skawennati, which allows her to highlight the origin myths of the world, an Indigenous version, transposed into a science fiction narrative. The other exchange takes place with Agnes Meyer-Brandis and concerns, among other things, her project Cloud Core Scanner (2007) in which the Berlin artist introduces, within the framework of a parabolic flight, a broom. This “witch-astronaut” action makes us smile, of course, but it also implies a research combining scientific and artistic processes.

In parallel to this thematic issue, a text by Franck Michel, published in the “Events” section, recalls the 10th edition of the Rencontre photographique du Kamouraska. Moreover, as it is wont, the “Reviews” section here proposes nine texts about current exhibitions presented in Quebec and Canada, but also in Europe. Finally, with its “Books” and “Selected titles” sections ESPACE magazine invites readers to discover recent publications that caught our attention.

Translated by Bernard Schütze