Les commissaires anonymes



article in french here

English version of the interview :

Les commissaires anonymes : The space race was one of the most important engines of scientific research during the twentieth century. Particularly reported in the cold war mediascape, she participated at the popular glorification of technology. As an artist of the twenty-first century, why have you decided to work about this subject ?

Joseph Popper : I was first drawn to space by the extraordinary imagery of the space race : of humanity achieving incredible feats of technological endeavour (tentative), and the spectacular theatre it created. I work a lot with space as a subject, but my works are not solely about space. I think it has become a recurring theme because it is an ideal subject to explore my wider interests around human exploration, endeavour and also how we imagine and deal with the unknown. I arrived at the idea for The One-Way Ticket project through thinking about what space exploration means in the 21st century, and how different our perception of space is from my parents’ generation. Outer space remains a frontier for discovery and for possibility but we are approaching it from a different predicament with new, contrasting motivations.

LCA : You mention that we don’t have any more territory to discover today. The deep space would be the only unknown territory that it remains to humans to fantasize. Do you think that an expedition as One Way ticket can have a real interest for the science or this scenario is rather a support of reflection on our relation with technology ? A reflection on human finitude ?

JP : The project certainly reflects upon our relation with technology and was first inspired by ideas around the finitude of exploring Earth : how our technological progress has come to, in some way, limit the space for our imaginations and curiosity. We have deep space, but the limits of our current technology, and also the human lifespan (durée de vie) pose limits to where we can go from here, in the near future at least. I find this absence of unknown territory a strange predicament. However a one-way journey also has real scientific interest. Not coming back opens up an exceptional scenario for investigating a number of issues regarding future, long duration space travel.

LCA : If at first sight, the effect of imitation is amazing, we glimpse gradually the making tips - fishing line, plastic lids and polystyrene plates. Why do you expose these economy of means ? Is it to put away the technology ? Is it a critical posture ?

JP : Early on in the project I adopted a method of ‘zero gravity, zero budget’ where the making-of aesthetic continued into the final set and film. Alongside my research into what a one-way journey means, I made various props and devices to translate different aspects of this experience on camera. Using simple materials allowed me to test ideas in a non-precious way, and this process became influential to the whole project. I decided not to hide my methods because it was important to retain the idea of me, an artist, imagining and simulating a grand scale scenario with the means at my disposal.

LCA : The astronaut gets its bearings in the aircraft, he looks out the window the planets and eats a banana. Why did you choose to give to your protagonist a so phlegmatic attitude ? Why is he so little expressive ? Why do you imagine that he eats only John West can of tuna ? Has his existence no importance any more ?

JP : The film comprises a series of episodes aboard the spacecraft, defined by key conditions (zero gravity) and milestones along the journey (such as the last fresh fruit or Earth gradually disappearing). I play the astronaut quite phlegmatically, as you say, but I was content to play an understated style because of the nature of the imagery I was making : which was more about the actions of inhabiting a space capsule.
His existence is important but not necessarily an exciting one day-to-day. I wanted to convey the disorientation, boredom, isolation and monotony of existing in a small capsule for 732 days. The tuna tins scene is another signifier for the boredom and desperation - a playful image of when the astronaut has eaten everything interesting and is left with what he leaves till last.

LCA : If all conquests contain the risk of no return, of the death, she is above all based on hope of discovery. In your exploration model, the no return is one of the experience’s conditions, why is it so determinant ? In spite of the no return, would the astronaut be able to report to the Earth what he discovers ? Is this scenario closer than a sacrifice for science or a poetic and heroic suicide ?

JP : The premise of the mission is for an astronaut to travel the further into deep space than ever before : an alternative yet familiar human ambition to reach the next frontier. The one-way condition is so determinant because it arguably presents the best option to go, technologically and financially. The mission path is based on existing space mission plans and precedents - in the spirit of we can go tomorrow.
Most of all, the one-way trip creates new possibilities and new considerations to explore as a human experience. Sacrifice is of course part of the equation, but only a part. Not coming back is the scenario for a poetic human endeavour, of the wondrous sort that now appears to be disappearing.

LCA : Can the space race still be a stimulus for imagination on the scale of a society ? Is she, in your opinion, a fiction generating utopias ?

JP : Yes I believe space can be incredibly stimulating, however what makes future space travel so interesting now is that there are many races occurring for both collective and individual imaginations. Private, scientific, entrepreneurial, touristic space enterprises are competing and co-operating with the international state programmes. The 21st century has space races as opposed to the more clear-cut race of the 20th. There is a range of fictions and utopias (as you call them) being created, but they are not necessarily for everyone.