Vanguard 1 satellite has been circling around the Earth already for 60 years proving human presence in the Universe as the oldest artefact in the orbit. At the same time, it is one of plentiful space debris. Among plankton-like pieces of a maximum 1 cm diameter, which are estimated to be present there in millions, the Earth is also surrounded by much larger objects that weigh even more than 100 kg. Functionless artefacts create the environment that is not fully researched. What is interesting the biggest group is the one consisting of paint chips. The presence of space debris can be visualised as a ring circling in a further distance from the Earth and a dispersed cloud on a low orbit – the latter circles around the planet with the speed of almost 8 km/s, making a full circle within 90 minutes. The incredible continuous rotational dance of particles is not only the evidence of material culture connected with space conquer but above all a real threat to integrity of circumterrestrial systems and the future of our extraterrestrial travel.
The archaeology of space exploration, the potential threat of space debris and its reference to the history of mankind is a starting point for Jakub Słomkowski, the author of the cycle of analogue collages called Space Debris. These small format works tell stories about the discovery of space and terrestrial mysteries as well as about the traces that humankind leaves through artefacts and memories that they carry. Beginning with the inspiration by Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, consequently connecting it with other creations of human culture and history along with the terrestrial context of sending objects and creatures into space, Słomkowski creates a cloud of associations that shows interdependence of our cosmic activity and our earthly past.
The artist asks about the future of art in space. He makes a thesis that analogically to ecology, which is one of the most current artistic contexts, the scientific and technological debate concerning space debris might become the ground for a new art branch. The upcoming artistic work realised in space might be connected with site specific activities that would be involved both socially and culturally with a conscious aim of fixing mistakes with regard to the debris left in the orbit. Due to their activism such activities would take advantage of the most significant context of our space presence, namely the context of mission.
In the process of connecting terrestrial and extraterrestrial worlds the artist attempts to reflect upon the issue of space debris in a philosophical way, redefining it. Słomkowski poses a question concerning the limits – how shall we consider limitations set by science in the context of the space vacuum absolute? Shouldn’t we follow the example of posthumanistic process of redefining human place in the context of other living creatures and the natural environment? Shouldn’t we look at ourselves in the context of the whole universe, which would provide us another perspective? The artist perceives the Earth as a part of the whole. It is not detached from the rest of Universum and is not an observational or explorational base anymore. The cosmic space observed from the perspective of the physical system starts to be perceived by him as time space, whereas human activity and its traces as footprints left in the universe forever. These traces that are processed and collected from various plots and narratives become the main source of inspiration and the extending creative base. Słomkowski processes the world and human stories arranging them in collages hence creating new images of eternal material elements in the cycle of the ecosystem. Space Debris does not illustrate a cemetery of inanimate objects anymore. On the contrary, it becomes a new type of memory, which gains a new artistic form.
Space Debris is the series that shows the process of crossing borders as well as history and ideology. It falls into the pattern of works with apotropaic meaning. The apocalyptic motives concerning also some difficult historic periods as well as commemoration of events and the morality of their creators are treated by the artist satirically with a pinch of black humour. The context of those events and their evaluation are rebuilt due to new reflections upcoming over time. In such a way Słomkowski tames the terror of our own past and manages to talk about it without shifting its bad energy into the present. His collages stand for the memory which aim is to build, not to oppress.
Jakub Słomkowski’s series is open, which reflects the incomplete image of space debris assemblage that is not fully inventoried. Upcoming collages consist of old and new narratives, which are interspersed, creating tales of the past, the present and divagations concerning the future. The artist also experiments with the form. In the creative process the following materials are used: books’ fragments and covers, photographs, drawings, snippets. He works on pieces of paper, cardboard and even on a chopping board. Remaking materials and bringing them new life is the reference to space debris and its place in our consciousness: on the one hand understood as a serious threat and on the other hand as the evidence of our progress. What does it mean in the context of space memory? According to the artist, Space Debris seen as human trace left in the future can be also perceived as artefacts of cosmic archaeology. Great archaeologists of the universe will be trying to build histories about mankind analogically to the way it is done with human roots on the Earth. While earthly archaeology digs in soil and country rock, cosmic archaeology will be observing the matter left in the great vacuum.
30.06 – 30.08.2020
Art Walk Gallery, Warsaw
Artist: Jakub Słomkowski
Curator: Karolina Wlazło-Malinowska
Translation: Magdalena Dębowska
Graphic design: Marcin Ślusarczyk/ Bakcyl Studio
Organizer: Sztuka w Mieście Foundation, Ghelamco Poland