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From Park Avenue to the Surface of Mars

NASA-loving artist Tom Sachs’ new show at the Park Avenue Armory will see a team of thirteen attractive astronauts simulating a mission to the red planet using low-fi bricolaged components manufactured by the artist to take them to the surface and back...

by Chris Hatherill
May 18 2012, 9:32am

Mars missions have been simulated in Russian saunas, the Canadian Arctic, under the sea, in the deserts of Utah and most recently inside an Austrian ice cave, but none look as fun as the one that’s just got underway on the Upper East Side. NASA-loving artist Tom Sachs' new show at the Park Avenue Armory will see a team of thirteen attractive astronauts simulating a mission to the red planet using low-fi bricolaged components manufactured by the artist to take them to the surface and back.

Astronaut Eannarino and the ‘Handtool Palette Carrier (HTC)’

Space Program: Mars, mounted by the Park Avenue Armory and New York City-based, public arts foundation Creative Time, is a kid's bedroom fort-building space fantasy come to life, with homemade parts ranging from tiny details like spacesuit helmet clasps made from plywood to an entire ‘Landing Excursion Module’ based on NASA's lunar version and a ‘Mars Excursion Roving Vehicle (MERV)’ which, to be critical, looks a lot like the ones used on the moon four decades ago.

Sachs riding past the ‘Landing Excursion Module’ and ‘Mars Excursion Roving Vehicle (MERV)’

What the show may lack in realism is more than made up for in charm and playfulness – not to mention the insane attention to detail. The old school NASA worm logo makes a welcome return, popping up everywhere from the backs of high top sneakers to the press seating, while everything from tools to the EVA suits present a handmade alternate take on the agency's gleaming arsenal of toys. To keep them healthy during the four-week show, an exercise regime for astronauts ranges from runs through the city streets to lunges, push ups and squats, plus daily helicopter rescue training using a small model aircraft carrier.

‘Journeyman’ detail

Set inside the Armory's vast 55,000 square foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall, Sachs’s space program – a follow-up from his 2007 mission to the moon, at Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles – also includes large scale elements like the aforementioned lander and rover, plus a mobile quarantine facility complete with Raytheon radars and a DIY mission control which, we're assured, has been upgraded with 18 new screens for this show.

‘Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF)’

‘Mission Control’

As for the planet itself, Sachs' vision of the obstacles his astronauts will face is distinctly minimal, with geometric red outcroppings standing in for the Martian surface. Set against the wooden floorboards and vast dark space of the hall, it nevertheless looks like an otherworldly place, and provide both a testbed for the vehicles and a prop for the exercise regimen.

‘Mars Yard’

With everything in the place, the coming weeks will see "a demonstration of all that is necessary for survival, scientific exploration, and colonization in extraterrestrial environs: from food delivery systems and entertainment to agriculture and human waste disposal. Sachs and his studio team of thirteen will man the installation, regularly demonstrating the myriad procedures, rituals, and tasks of their mission. The team will also 'lift off' to Mars several times throughout their residency at the Armory, with real-time demonstrations playing out various narratives from take-off to landing, including planetary excursions, their first walk on the surface of Mars, collecting scientific samples, and photographing the surrounding landscape."

‘Mars Yard: The Dig’

And finally, as if building an entire Mars simulation complete with vehicles wasn't enough, Sachs has collaborated with Nike on a range of space-inspired garb crafted with the same creative attention to detail. Using space-age materials ranging from retro aluminum clasps to Vectran – the fabric used to create landing airbags for various Mars rovers – the collection includes jackets with essential physics info included, bags inspired by airbags and shoes with detailing inspired by the Apollo lunar overshoes. Sachs' obvious fondness and knowledge for the subject matter comes through in the description of the shoes, which are designed to "thrive in the rugged terrain of the simulated Mars Yard in Pasadena, CA – as well as steathily creeping the mission-funding hallways of headquarters in Washington."

God speed, Tom Sachs.

Tom Sachs Airbag Bag for NIKECraft
Video of Tom Sachs mission to the moon, October 2007 at Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles.

SPACE PROGRAM: MARS is on until June 17 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, New York, 10065. Sachs' NIKECraft collection is available for a limited time at Opening Ceremony, Dover Street Market and other selected outlets.


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Tom Sachs