In 2007, American artist Tom Sachs made space travel possible—artistically at least. Sachs used everyday materials to painstakingly build a 1:1 model of the Apollo lunar probe and staged a moon landing within the confines of the Los Angeles branch of Gagosian Gallery, complete with mission control monitors relaying footage of the astronauts in space suits.
Sachs’ latest project takes his fascination with the challenges, ingenuity, and wonder of space travel even further, this time shifting from the enormous accomplishments of the Apollo program, which disbanded forty years ago, to an imagined Mars mission unlikely to happen anytime soon. Space Program: Mars, co-produced by Creative Time and Park Avenue Armory, opens May 16 at the Armory. Artlog talked about the vast installation with the show’s curator, Creative Time President and Artistic Director Anne Pasternak.
How does the scale of the Park Avenue Armory fit with Tom Sachs’ vision?
The Park Avenue Armory is an enormous and extraordinary space that provides artists with an unparalleled, massive stage in the heart of New York City upon which they are able to realize their biggest and boldest visions. For Tom, having the opportunity to create an installation in this space was a dream come true. He has been able to expand his body of work using the lens of space exploration as a way to examine who we are, where we have come from, and where we are headed. The Armory space has enabled him to continue creating immersive installations, such as his celebrated Nutsy’s exhibition in 2002. And it has given him the opportunity to highlight his many forms of artistic practice—from sculpture to film, performance, zines, and much more.
What are the challenges of organizing such an ambitious installation with the Park Avenue Armory?
Creative Time and Park Avenue Armory have had the pleasure of working together in the past, namely on Democracy in America in 2008. However, this is our first co-presentation, and the partnership makes a lot of sense, as both organizations are invested in helping artists realize their dream projects. As experienced partners undertaking big, experimental projects, we work well together. To be honest, the real challenges rest with the artist; coming up with a plan that can tackle the enormity of the Armory is no small task.
How important is the participation element?
Public participation is an essential part of Tom’s practice—in fact, it always has been, even though this and other related aspects of his work, such as the demonstrations that constitute an integral part of Space Program: Mars have largely been overlooked by critics. I’m not sure why this is, as it’s a fascinating aspect of his work. Tom does not want his art to be elitist. Rather, he works hard to provide multiple entry points through which the public can engage with his work. He makes zines. He sells Tom Sachs Sharpies and screwdrivers for less than they cost him to make. He puts his films online for anyone to see. He makes insanely wonderful public interventions. And by inviting visitors to get involved in Space Program: Mars through a well-conceived “indoctrination” process, he provides people with extended opportunities to more deeply engage, play, work, and generally get closer to him, his work, and his studio. His is a very generous practice. I guarantee that the more one participates, the more one is rewarded by the experience.
Are there any other continuities with Sachs’ past work?
It is my hope that people take a fresh look at Tom’s practice as an artist. Frankly, it is really varied and complex. He is an artist dealing with contradictions as a way to draw us in and challenge us to reflect on our own complicated relationships to the social, political, economic and environmental issues of our time. He draws on so many references; I find I am always learning, always surprised, delighted, and even at times discomforted. How many of us realize, for example, that the roots of Tom’s work come out of counterculture movements such as punk, hip-hop, and skateboard culture? He is as passionate about the history of trade as he is about war, as interested in technology as he is in the environment, as engaged with philosophy as with popular culture. He is a consummate reader, learner, and an original thinker who uses his art to provide insight into who we are as humans, and where we may be headed in the not-so-distant future.
Space Program: Mars is open May 18 through June 17 at the Park Avenue Armory.