Aleksandra Mir: Space Tapestry
Tate Liverpool, until 15th October
Words, Julia Johnson (Messy Lines)
Space: The Final Frontier. As science and technology erode the mysteries of the terrestrial world, the knowledge being uncovered about the universe beyond only makes it seem more extraordinary. Everything about it is vast – watching scientists trying to quantify it on Horizon can be a dizzying experience. How can those of us with a more ordinary capacity for physics begin to progress the numbers involved in exploring the light years of the galaxies?
Step in Aleksandra Mir, who with Space Tapestry is aiming to “add a more active philosophical and aesthetic involvement” to the conversation about space. That is to say: she wants us not to view space as something mind-bogglingly distant and complicated, but to make it more relevant. So the questions about the universe which fill the room are down-to-earth – the sort that daydreamers of any age may find themselves asking when glancing up at the skies.
A huge subject deserves a huge scale, and the enormity of these wall hangings is instantly impressive. The monochrome colour palette makes the images pop, more like prints than drawings. The fonts too, reminiscent of 1970s sci-fi, instantly place you in a context which is out-of-this-world. What’s particularly extraordinary about this project is that it’s been realised by nothing more than Sharpies. The scale and variety of colour effects that have been achieved with this most ordinary of mediums really is quite remarkable.
It seems in part to be a testament to bloody-mindedness – the mind boggles at how many pens Mir and her 25 young-artist collaborators must have used up. But in working collaboratively, in a medium which is time-consuming and requires focus on the detail whilst maintaining an understanding of the bigger picture, there are obvious parallels to be drawn with the preparations for space flight.
But does Space Tapestry reach the heights it aspires to? The universe is usually discussed with awe because it’s a subject which can’t help but invoke this feeling. When we relate to the ordinary every day, it doesn’t necessarily do an extraordinary subject any justice. Mir’s intentions behind the work are understandable, but juxtaposing big dreams with gas holders makes the ambitions seem closer to the pavement than to the heavens.
The most inspiring content in the room may actually not be on the walls, but the Probes filling the centre of the room. The various spacecraft depicted here must surely stand as their own testaments to the possibilities of human ambition. Pixelated, they look like science-fiction – but each one is science-fact. Even if we don’t understand the physics behind what has been achieved with these space explorations, we can be inspired by the fact that they have happened. Art can of course be equally as inspiring, and Space Tapestry clearly shows Mir’s ambition, but its message is maybe set too close to home to inspire the next generation.