Press view invite from FACT in Liverpool.
Art When was the last time you looked at the Moon? Properly looked at it? Walking around Republic of the Moon it occurred to me how much I took for granted one of the most extraordinary examples of natural beauty, one which is accessible to our wonder every evening no matter our geographic location (depending on weather conditions) and which as the work demonstrates is almost unique in its ability to inspire both those who comprehend it with their imagination and those who strive to measure its properties, artists and scientists.
It’s apt that Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is still playing at FACT's cinema (just about) with its flashback sequences showing the production of Meliere's Le Voyage dans la lune. Like him, these artists seek to investigate humanities motivation in choosing to go to the moon through fantastical elements and fictions. The gallery guide mentions the recent Mars 500 ‘wood panelled spacecraft’ in Moscow, six men simulating a space mission on the ground. Through another prism that would be performance art.
In Enter At Own Risk, 2011 We Colonised the Moon, Hagen Betzwiser and Sue Corke imagines the work of lunar scientists on the moon’s surface, specifically the smell generated by moon dust as they re-entered the lunar module. They’ve attempted a recreation, which to my nasal cavity is somewhat like the Yankee Candle shop but through scratch and sniff postcards has been confirmed by one of the actual astronauts. One of the repeated elements of the exhibition is the revealing of little known facts about our natural satellite.
Beyond an airlock which reminds us of the preparatory processes from FACT’s previous success, ZEE, a room is set out like a mock up of the lunar surface and visitors at the weekend will be able to see the artist’s own astronaut recreating a moon mission, gardening the artificial rocks. We received a preview and its an eerie experience not least because as a group we were awed into silence presumably so as not to distract the performer from their task. We met the person behind the mask later but I won’t spoil their anonymity.
The last Apollo landing was by the Soviet Union, when in 1976, the Lunik 24, an unmanned probe stopped off for twenty-four hours and collected moon rocks. Leonid Tishkov cherishes that fact and in Private Moon he personalises it by presenting a series of photos illustrating the story of man who meets the moon and decides to spend the rest of his life with it. These are beautiful evocations of the city, illuminated by the moon itself carried about like the heart in the promo for Rodger Sanchez’s Another Chance, a reference he probably wasn’t intending.
Similarly its unlikely Sharon Houkema had the rippling moon of the surface of the water in the opening titles of Arena, the BBC’s arts strand when producing M3, but as it ebbs and flows on the wall above us, it replicates the same broken quality in a clever adaptation of an overhead projector. As the accompanying text describes: “The moon image – often surrounded with mysticism, romanticism and fantasy – is rendered (un)intelligible, yet the magic doesn’t disappear, it merely switches position.”
The point were science and art properly coexist is in Andy Gracie’s Drosophila Titanus a small display which gathers evidence of the artist’s attempt to breed a fruit fly capable of withstanding the extreme conditions on Titan (Saturn’s moon) (which you already knew) (sorry to insult your intelligence). When Gracie says the experiment could take many thousands of generation it gains an epic quality even on discovering the life cycle of the fly is nine days. One of the outcomes will be in seeing how mutant strains and deformities can speed up the process.
Liliane Lijn imagined in 1992 a moment when she’d behold it and see the word printed across it in block capitals, the celestial body becoming a metaphor for the female body which it already effects indirectly. He decades long project has resulted in a video piece representing her vision which shifts every twenty-six hours in time with its actuality, the natural lunar cycle suggestion a gender transformation as SHE becomes HE and back again. In the darkness of the media lounge, moonememe is accompanied by the voice of Lijn and a friend vocalising these shifts.
If you take my advice you will visit the media lounge then Gallery Two first because for once it’s Gallery One (opposite the box office) which provides the grand finale and perhaps one of the most original, astonishing, exciting art pieces these thirty-seven year old eyes has seen, a work which taps directly into my whimsy gene with its poignancy. Glimpsing at it through a window on an exterior wall as I arrived for the press view suggested this would be a simple reproduction of the control room for a moon mission. I was wrong.
At which point the title does much of the work. Agnes Meyer-Brandis’s The Moon Goose Analogue: Lunar Migration Bird Facility takes it inspiration from Francis Goodwin’s Jacobian utopian fantasy novel The Man in the Moone, which recounts the diary of one Domingo Gonsales who’s carried to the moon in a chariot by geese and the artist has bred eleven of the fowl at an analogue for the moon in Italy, the secret success being that instead of simply faking these elements, we’re seeing their behaviour live.
None of which really describes the excitement of being in the room, the attention to detail of some of the elements, and it’s not supposed to. You have to visit, even for ten minutes, even if you’re primarily in the building to go the movies (though chances are whatever you’re seeing will have a tenth of the imagination of this). It’s rare that I become quite so evangelic about an art piece but along with the accompanying film which charts the development of the experiment, Meyer-Brandis captures the magic of Melieres through even more dimensions than Hugo. Breathtaking.