The Moon has no doubt inspired the imagination of humans since we had our first conscious thoughts – for so long a mystery object traversing the sky, and then later, a seemingly unattainable other-land. It was written about, painted, and made the subject of music and films.
And then, in the second half of the 20th century, something extraordinary happened: humans went to the Moon. Although, to do so, it became less about art, and more about the science. Because figuring out how to get off this gravity well we call home, and fly almost 400,000km through the emptiness of space – and then return safely – required a crap-load of exacting, meticulous calculations based on strong and sober scientific theories.
However, during these journeys, some astronauts found themselves thinking less like scientists than as mystics – inspired, even rapturous, at the amazing perspective they now had. So much so, that the phenomenon has even been given a name: the Overview Effect.
Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell described the effect it had on him in these words:
I had completed my major task for going to the Moon, and was on my way home, and was observing the heavens and the Earth from this distance…
As we were rotating I saw the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, and a 360 degree panorama of the heavens. The magnificence of all of this – what this triggered, in the ancient Sanskrit, is called samadhi. It means that you see things with your senses the way they are, but you experience them viscerally and internally as a unity and a one-ness, accompanied by ecstasy.
On returning to Earth, Mitchell was inspired to create the Institute of Noetic Science (IONS) as a research centre that could deliver “a new story of who we are and what we are capable of becoming”.
If this is the effect the journey to the Moon and back has on astronauts, how would it affect artists? In five years time, we’re going to find out, because – on what would have been Edgar Mitchell’s 88th birthday – SpaceX today announced an extraordinary new mission to the Moon.
Extraordinary, firstly, because it is the first announcement about a manned mission beyond near-Earth orbit for more than 40 years. Secondly, because it is going to be a paid mission – Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is paying SpaceX to take him there (note: around the Moon, not landing on it).
And, perhaps most extraordinary of all, Maezawa says that he is going to take a crew with him – and that crew will be artists, whose mission will be to relay what they see and experience back to the people of Earth through art. It brings to mind Ellie Arroway, Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact, saying “they should have sent a poet”.
To help promote the project, which Maezawa has called #dearMoon, a video has been released:
The time has come for civilians to fly to the Moon. In 2023, SpaceX will launch the world’s first private lunar mission, with its spacecraft, the BFR. The first passenger will be Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa, a globally renowned art collector, who believes art has the power to promote world peace. Maezawa made a bold decision: a painter, photographer, musician, film director, fashion designer; Maezawa will invite artists that represent Earth on his journey to the Moon.
The crew will spend a week in space. What will they feel when they see the Moon? When they see Earth in full view? And what will they create?
While the video narrator only mentions five artists, it’s worth noting that Maezawa said on Twitter he’d like to take six to eight with him, and te graphic accompanying the video also includes novelist, sculptor, dancer and architect as possibilities.
Who would you nominate to fill those positions? Who do you think could take in that experience, and turn it into worthwhile art?