A Space Program is a celebration of creativity and ingenuity—of inventiveness in all fields, really.
With a title like A Space Program, Tom Sachs’ newest project might mislead some unknowing audience members. A brief synopsis would tell you that this film is a documentary-fiction about a pair of female astronauts going to Mars. It is definitely that, but in a way that might disappoint science nerds. This is more of an art exhibition than a science lesson. It’s a bricolage effort (more on that in a moment) for a fan of George Méliès and Wes Anderson, or a punk rocker.
To get an idea of what A Space Program actually is, it’s best to familiarize yourself to the artist that made it: Tom Sachs. Sachs is a contemporary artist working out of New York City since the 1990s. He’s highly fascinated with branding and consumer culture. In 1994, he did a window display for Barneys entitled Hello Kitty Nativity which is even more subversive than you might imagine; it features Hello Kitty as the Virgin Mary. Oh, and she’s wearing an open Chanel bra. The stable was a McDonalds logo, and the three kings were all Bart Simpsons. So, yeah, now you’re getting a better idea of what A Space Program is like.
A Space Program is an extension of Tom Sachs’ fascination with consumer products and his long-time obsession with space. In the film, he explains that the space program is entirely handmade and guided by the philosophy of bricolage. (If you aren’t familiar, bricolage is a do-it-yourself approach to art. It also happens to be the French word that means something close to improvisation.) This film has been a long timing coming for Sachs, as he first started working on it in the mid-2000s. In 2007, Sachs had an exhibition called Space Program (not the film—confusing, I know) where he built his own replica of the Apollo lunar module complete with 29 closed-circuit video monitors and two female astronauts wearing DIY space suits made from Tyvek. The exhibition had a sense of humor—much like all of Sachs’ work—and no interest in being historically accurate. For example, the ship was stocked with a Vodka bar and a library filled with books like Women’s Almanac. He would return to the same subject again in 2012 in an exhibition called Space Program: Mars, which ultimately led to the documentary-fiction film in question.
The film A Space Program is much like its 2007 and 2012 counterparts—it utilizes the same art pieces even. It’s collaboration between Tom Sachs and Van Neistat of the Neistat Brothers. (You may know Neistat from his HBO show The Neistat Brothers or the 2003 short film “iPod’s Dirty Secret” that famously changed Apple’s battery replacement policy. It just makes sense that Sachs and Neistat would work together.) The two female astronauts in suits made of Tyrell are back, and so is the Vodka bar and the good reads. Also, their “mission” is acted out to good effect in front of a live audience. A Space Program is brimming with whimsy and humor. Often times the focus isn’t even remotely science-y. One of my favorite bits is when they have a makeshift polygraph machine measure the astronauts’ rapport. At one point, the polygraph assesses their behaviors as falling into “bitch” territory. This makes way for a lesson in brief interpersonal communications. It’s sure to be a real crowd-pleaser. Although it might not satisfy a science nerd looking for something more educational, it’ll still make you mourn the fact that NASA has been effectively closed for the past three years. A Space Program is a celebration of creativity and ingenuity—of inventiveness in all fields, really. It turns out science and art aren’t all that far apart. | Cait Lore
A Space Program will be screened at 8:00 p.m. on July 1, 2, and 3 at the Winifred Moore Auditorium at Webster University (470 E. Lockwood Ave., St. Louis, MO, 63119). Tickets are $6 for the general public, $5 for seniors, Webster alumni, and students from other schools, $4 for Webster University staff and faculty and are free for Webster University students with proper ID. Further information about tickets is available here and the film series calendar is available here.