Friday, 13 September 2013

Two artists reflect on what Voyager's departure really means


The press release is available here.

Andrews and Verdugo have been engaged in work on the Voyager space probe since 2010. Kevin Andrews an Artist and Economist from London, UK says:

“As would be expected when the official announcement is made there is a lot of publicity about the craft at its amazing achievements, but it will take some time for the cultural significance of the Voyager to filter through.”

Two key cultural aspects are firstly what Voyager means in terms of a commemorative memory of life on Earth and secondly the perspective it gives on migration and border crossing on Earth.  These are the two themes addressed in the Migration and Memory project: From the Island.

As Andrews says: “Voyager’s Golden Record is a very imperfect memory of life on Earth.  Given Voyager will outlive us and the solar system because of the preservative nature of deep space, the memory on the Golden Record is set to last a very long time indeed: billions of years.  Its architect, the visionary Carl Sagan in putting together the Golden Record as a remembrance also undertook an act of forgetting – everything not on the Record itself. That’s what interests me.”

The contents of the Golden Record include music and images.  Given the time available to Carl Sagan and his team, however, this collection is highly idiosyncratic and personal: including as it does a record of the brain waves of Ann Druyan – later to become Sagan’s wife – as she thought about the object of her love – Sagan himself.

According to Andrews: “What’s as significant to me as the Golden Record itself is what it says about the species that created it. I think it’s a very poor record of life on Earth.  It is not an objective portrait.  There is for example no reference to war on the record; neither does popular 20th century culture get a mention (aside from a Chuck Berry record).”

Andrews continues: “I think this means the Golden Record is ripe for a re-imagining by artists, musicians, photographers and if that is a consequence of the publicity regarding the departure of Voyager then that would be fantastic.”

The second theme is that of migration. 

Enrique Verdugo a Chilean Photographer and film maker working in London notes: “Voyager represents the ultimate in border crossing for humans.  As a migrant myself I was very interested in this aspect.  We travelled to the Canary Islands to take a picture of the region of Space where Voyager is from the Nordic Optical Telescope in 2012, as Voyager was leaving the solar system.”

The Canary Islands represent a very significant location in the landscape of migration – being the point of first arrival for many migrants from Africa who make an arduous sea journey to the Islands before trying to get into mainland Europe.

As Verdugo notes: “The juxtaposition of these ideas about migration are very interesting.  I hope it helps us reflect on the fact that while we celebrate the movement of Voyager beyond the solar system, we are much more ambiguous about the movement of people – particularly those from low income countries.”

Verdugo continues: “Money moves around the globe, goods move around the globe, even ideas move around and if you are someone from a middle or high income country you move around too.  But if you are born in a low income country, almost regardless of your ability to contribute to life on Earth, you have less ability to move around than a can of coca-cola”.


Kevin Andrews (46, UK/CANADA) and Enrique Verdugo (44, CHILE/UK) began to collaborate in 2010 when they realised that the projects they were working on (Voyager and migration) were actually very interrelated.  Since starting to collaborate they have produced a number of outputs including films, photographs and installations:
Between Islands – a film made following the visit to the Nordic Optical Telescope reflecting on the location and its significance for the themes of migration and memory. Between Islands was recently shown at Kinston University as part of an installation at the degree show.
Black is the colour of memory – a film of an impromptu performance at an installation at the Ars Electronica festival reflecting on the Voyager’s intergalactic greetings.
HM’s Dream – a film made in response to the theme of this year’s Ars Electronica festival: Total Recall: The Evolution of Memory.  This film combines the Golden Record and ideas about memory from the patient Henry Molaison – the most famous patient in Neuroscience who led to the development of new theories about memory formation.
Migration and Memory Diptych – a photograph taken of voyager in October 2012 as it crossed in to inter-stellar space merged with a picture taken by the Suomi NPP satellite of North Africa showing the routes of migration at night.
Memory and Migration Triptych – a composite photograph which inserts an image from a man and an observatory between the Voyager and migration route pictures.   

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