Monday, June 18, 2012

Tom Sachs - Space Program Mars - Park Avenue Armory

First you must be indoctrinated through a series of five short films.


Observation tower

Mission Control

Space Camp exercise and equipment kiosk.

This simulator allows cadets to practice a helicopter retrieval of the capsule after re-entry. (see below)

Mobile Quarantine Unit

The surface of Mars.

Red Beans and Rice Module, an essential for Martian exploration.

The Landing Excursion Module (LEM). To enter you must be indoctrinated through a series of films, pass a written and oral exam, and then do some manual labor around Mars.

Library aboard the LEM.

The Incinolet, a waste-incinerating toilet.

Supply cabinet aboard the LEM.

Wonder at the cosmos.

Inside the Mobile Quarantine Unit

Lunar sample

As you depart you must pass through the sanitizing light of the Robert Irwin Scrim Clean Air Room. 

A model depicting the entire Martian surface.

I’d been reading about Space Program Mars since for weeks and desperately wanted to check it out but didn't think I would get the chance. I finally made it uptown just a couple days before the show closed, and I am so incredibly glad I did. Both a retrospective and a culmination of many interrelated projects, the exhibit is a masterpiece disguised as an amusement park. The show is equal parts theatre, performance, and exhibit. All around the hall staffers dressed as scientists busily go about their work with a straight-faced dedication.  Films are shown in a cinema complete with a popcorn vendor. A mission control area displays live feeds from cameras all across the cavernous Armory floor. Elaborate models are set in motion to simulate a rocket ignition, launch, and re-entry (red meat for conspiracy theorists distrustful of the lunar landing). In the center of the room there is a 1:1 scale plywood reproduction of the Lunar Excursion Module of the Apollo missions from which emerge Astronauts clad in Tyvek space suits made with duct tape and staples. The floor is cut through and drilled for rock samples. The astronauts return to their ship. 

In order to view the entire exhibit, visitors must submit to indoctrination, in which they must learn the methodologies and philosophy of the Sachs studio. You must then pass a written and oral exam. If you fail either test you cannot continue and you may not try again. (this lead to some awkward moments of desperate disappointment.) If you pass these tests you must then perform some manual labor (sorting screws, sweeping floors, etc.) and you must do it properly or you will be dismissed. If you complete the whole process, your documents are punched and stamped and you are allowed inside the LEM to see the ship’s control center and living quarters. Inside there is a tape deck with two Al Green tapes as the only NASA-issued options, a small library, a well-stocked liquor cabinet, and the ships controls are revealed to be an old ‘Mission Command’ video game.

Beyond the visual delights of these constructions and the whimsy of the premise, the show delivers on the key cornerstone of Sachs working philosophy. The job of an astronaut demands that every member of the team adhere to a strictly codified and disciplined system of behavior. What better metaphor for the Sachs studio working environment? Through his regimented production process, one part NASA and one part James Brown, Sachs has managed to transform a drill hall on the Upper East Side into the surface of Mars. More than anything, the exhibit is Sachs masterpiece of organization. The design, production, and execution reveal a prodigious administrator who clearly delights in the validation that the system he has created is so incredibly functional. 

In the words of Kennedy (as revised by Sachs) “We choose to go to mars not because it is easy but because it is hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.“