The dA-Zed guide to Outer Space

Out-of-this-world creativity, from Alexander McQueen to Ziggy Stardust!

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Steven Spielberg's highly anticipated futuristic thriller series Extant, is just one of a new slew of Hollywood sci-fi works including Elysium, Gravity, Ender's Crossing, and even Stephen Hawking's biopic. So why outer space? More than ever, with the increasingly popular and affordable offers of sub-orbital tourism, space cremation burials (for just under 2K), and personal satellite launches flooding the markets of everyday life,  it makes sense that many of Earth's most radical creatives -pop stars and stunt artists alike - are turning to outer space instead of cyberspace, as the Final Frontier.

A is for Alexander McQueen

While looking for Cruise/Resort 13 collection inspiration, David Bowie wasn’t a bad place for Sarah Burton to start (see Z below). Delving into the singer’s many dramatic looks, Bowie’s obsession with the future was reflected in dramatically flared dress pants that created the illusion of inhumanly long legs. Other looks were metallic bodysuits and dresses in pearly jacquard, styled with extra-wide Lucite and a silver belt—strictly space-glam.

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B is for Bjork

You can consider Bjork’s 2000 “All is Full of Love” video a cyberpunk masterpiece or a perturbing foray into virtual robotsex. But the spectacle of two droids getting down and dirty on a spaceship—one with disturbingly Bjork-like facial features, lip-synching for the entirety of the song—won two MTV Video Music Awards, a Grammy nomination, and is currently on permanent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. If that doesn’t earn it legit creative cred, I’m not sure what does.

C is for Christopher Kane

Explaining that he liked "the idea of explosive outwards expansion," Christopher Kane’s 2011 resort collection,"Into the Galaxy," opted for flaring nebulae, as seen by the Hubble telescope. All that cosmic hyperactivity translated into stunning prints and silk cashmere knitwear, with plenty of the interplay between light and darkness that's a Kane signature.

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D is for Daft Punk

Hardly satiated with already having revolutionized dance music twice in their career, the French duo’s "Contact" from Random Access Memories, their fourth and some would say best album yet, opens with a transcript NASA gave them. The astronaut overheard commenting on “a bright object” is Gene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, along with Jack Schmitt and Ronald Evans, as they made their way to the Moon in December 1972. Check out the effortless synch up between "Contact" and 2001: A Space Odyssey below. Great minds really do think alike. 

E is for Empress

Empress Stah in Space’s goal is to create a performance in outer space, starring the underground cabaret artist Empress Stah. Expect interactive 3D animations, video mapping projections, colour-changing inflatables, couture costuming, and an eclectic soundtrack by none other than electro clash super star, Peaches.

F is for Felix Baumgartner

World’s greatest living fool or ultimate performance-stunt artist? On October 14th 2012 Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier after jumping to Earth from a helium balloon in the stratosphere. As part of this project, he set the altitude record for a manned balloon flight, parachute jump from the highest altitude, and the fastest speed of free fall at 843.6 mph for 4 minutes and 19 seconds. Damn.

G is for Gravity

Set to open the 70th Venice International Film Festival in August 2013, what sets Gravity apart from the recent spate of sci-fi fantasy flicks like Elysium and Ender’s Game isn’t the all-Hollywood cast, but the remarkably fluid, prolonged Google Glass-like perspectives of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in free-floating and stranded-in-space motion. 

H is for Hz

No wonder this was an easy Vimeo staff pick. Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt’s delightfully hypnotic semiconductor work 20 Hz visualizes a geo-magnetic storm occurring in the Earth's upper atmosphere. With data collected from the CARISMA radio array, we hear tweeting and rumbles caused by incoming solar wind captured at the frequency of 20 Hertz. Generated directly by the sound, trippy ripples and tangible sculptural forms emerge in complex patterns, creating interference phenomena that probe the very limits of our perception. 

I is for Intergalactic

Winner of a 1999 Grammy and MTV Music Award, this Beastie Boys video defined a new multicultural amalgam of Godzilla-inspired Japanese horror, hip hop beats, and other-wordly electronic robot vocals. Less obvious but no less remarkable are the song’s genre-bending samplings, incorporating Rachmaninoff's "Prelude C-sharp Minor," Mussorgsky’s "Night on Bald Mountain,"and "Love is Blue" by The Jazz Crusaders.

J is for Jackson

Before Beyonce and Jay Z ruled the world, the Jacksons did from the late 80s to mid 90s—as well as outer space. Even Janet’s own planet-hopping Feedback and Michael’s Copppla-directed 3D Disney adventure Captain EO (1986) were no match for their sexy gravity-defying music collab Scream (1995). Progressive politics and groundbreaking cyberpop choreography aside—Michael, as a sort of interstellar ambassador, performs “We are Here to Change the Word”  as a gift to an evil Supreme Leader—Captain EO is regarded as one of the first "4D" films, incorporating in-theater effects such as asteroids, lasers, smoke effects, and starfields in sync to the film narrative.

K is for Keung

Hui Wai Keung's 2011 Toro Nagashi in Outer Space project, submitted to space agencies like JAXA and NASA, proposes to have a ceremony of “water lanterns” released into outer space. Linked to ancient cosmology, many Asian societies float paper lanterns down a river in the belief that they will guide the spirits of the departed back to the “other world.” Switching the location of “other world” from the end of the sea to the end of the universe, Keung’s project speculates whether tradition can be updated, or ancient poetic beliefs re-established in the face of scientific dogma. 

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L is for Lady Gaga

Influenced by David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Queen, Lady Gaga is recognized for her flamboyant, outrageously futurist-fetish fashion and performances. Besides racking up five Grammy Awards and 13 MTV Video Music Awards, she made Forbes’s ”World's 100 Most Powerful Women list” from 2010 to 2013. As her spacy music videos often involve gender-bending explorations of identity, its no surprise that she is also an LGBT activist.

M is for Meyer-Brandis

Combining pure science and creativity to explore the zone between fact and fiction, fantasy and technology, German installation artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis is probably best known for her Moon Goose Colony, an internationally exhibited artwork and film in which she raises a flock of geese and teaches them to become astronauts. The training started last spring and according to her schedule, the birds will go on their first unmanned flight to the satellite in 2024. However, the artist plans to accompany them on a later flight, most probably in 2027. 

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N is for Nelly

Directed, produced and created by "experience designer" Nelly Ben Hayoun, the International Space Orchestra (ISO) is composed of a team of space scientists from the NASA Ames Research Center and SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Life.) In August of this year, ISO’s Ground Control: An Opera in Space - fronted by Gorillaz’s Damon Albarn and recorded at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch - launched into space on board two ArduSat satellites.

O is for Odyssey

Despite initially receiving mixed reactions from critics and audiences alike, Stanley Kubrik’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey garnered a cult following and eventually became a box office hit. Today it is near-universally recognized by critics, filmmakers, and audiences as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made: Sight & Sound in 2002 ranked it among the top ten films of all time. Dealing with the themes of human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and extraterrestrial life, 2001 is still notable for its soundtrack (think satellites spinning to a Straussian waltz), scientific accuracy, pioneering special effects, use of sound in place of traditional narrative techniques, and minimal use of dialogue.

S is for Sue and Hagen

Working for the last four years as WE COLONISED THE MOON, Sue Corke’s and Hagen Betzweiser’s graphic art and installation projects embody a child-like wonder of the universe. Characterised by catchy slogans and a range of absurdist DIY production techniques, they seek to demonstrate that the future may indeed be frightening, but also, highly entertaining. Previous projects have included creating solutions for space waste elimination by disguising satellites as asteroids; building a solar powered solarium because “the sun dies anyway” and reproducing the smell of the moon twice. 

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P is for Paglen

If satellites are destined to become the longest-lasting artifacts of human civilization, than Trevor Paglen’s The Last Pictures has claimed one of these spacecraft with his personal record of our contemporary historical moment. After five years spent interviewing scientists, artists, anthropologists, and philosophers, Paglen developed an ultra-archival disc, micro-etched with one hundred photographs, and encased in a gold-plated shell. In Fall 2012, the communications satellite EchoStar XVI launched into geostationary orbit. While the satellite’s broadcast images are as fleeting as the light-speed radio waves they travel on, Paglen's Last Pictures will remain in outer space slowly circling the Earth until the Earth itself is no more.

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Q is for Quartet

Approached by NASA to compose Sun Rings, a piece of music incorporating actual sounds from outer space—as recorded by Voyager expeditions—Quartet leader David Harrington and composer Riley created a stunning work of art that melds space noise with classical accompaniment, a parade of visuals created from actual NASA archives, a reading by Alice Walker, and a choir.

R is for Ridley Scott

One shudders to contemplate a world without Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), and probably Prometheus (2012). Scott’s striking visual style—incorporating a detailed approach to production design and innovative, atmospheric lighting and slow pacing—has been instrumental in shaping our collective image of strong female characters tackling the greater unknown, as well as spawning a generation of cinematic imitators.

S is for Stephen Hawking

One of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein and responsible for popularizing astronomy to the masses with A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking has finally been given his own documentary. Narrated by the man himself, Hawking traces his early student days and battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to his status as a bestselling author. 

T is for Tarkovsky

Without Andrei Tarkovsky's hallucinatory sci-fi masterpieces like Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979), how else could we so convincingly explore the unreliability of reality, the power of the human unconscious, and a perversely ill-fated love story—all without leaving the veloured comfort of our theatre seats?

U is for UNESCO

San Fransisco-based artist Amy Balkin is proposing a project that challenges the scope and intent of current US and international laws relating to property ownership and pollution in attempting to add the Earth’s atmosphere to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Combining cross-disciplinary research and social critique to generate ambitious, bold ways of conceiving the public domain, Balkin’s work focuses on how humans create, interact with, and impact the social and material landscapes they inhabit. 

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V is for Void

While scientists and engineers invent novel organisms in the hope of future astronauts sustainably farming their own food on their long voyage to Mars, Seasons of the Void—a trio collab between Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Sascha Pohflepp, and Andrew Stellitanoimagines delicious fruits grown from redesigned yeast, gorging on electricity instead of sunlight. As the spaceship flies away from the Sun, electrosynthesis replaces photosynthesis, relying less on Earth’s seasons than  magnetic fields thrown out by solar storms. If engineering functionality and human tastes can be balanced, would these designed fruits ever adopt the gloss of space travel, much less make GM food more palatable on Earth? The GM food debate may never have been further and closer at the same time.

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W is for Welsh 

As part of Goldsmith’s BA degree show this year, Helfin Jones’s Welsh Space Campaign "launches ordinary Welsh people into outer space, by finding a cosmic context for Welsh cultures, skills, and traditions." Designed with proper loving DIY care, the spacesuit's pressure system was built by a plumber, the space clogs by a traditional clogmaker and the last remaining wool mills in Wales provided material for the space suit itself. Jones's project proves that Wales too has the capacity to explore space, and that off-world culturalisation (not colonialism!) can be acheived through a collective community effort.

X is for X-Files

Spawning a spin-off show and two feature films, by the time the show ended, X-Files had become the longest-running science fiction series in U.S. television history. Initially considered a cult show reversing gender stereotypes (with Mulder as a paranormal believer and Scully a skeptic), it became a popular culture touchstone, tapping into public mistrust of governments and large institutions while embracing conspiracy theories and spirituality. The truth is out there…

Y is for Yves Klein

A pioneer in the development of Performance Gravity art, and a forerunner of Minimal art and Pop art, Saut Dans Le Vide (Leap into the Void) shows Klein springing off a wall, arms outstretched, towards the pavement. Klein used the photograph as evidence of his ability to undertake unaided lunar travel, as part of a broadside denouncing NASA’s lunar expeditions as hubris and folly. Fortunately for art's sake, the large tarpaulin he leaped onto was removed from the final image.

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Z is for Ziggy Stardust

Rewarded with a V&A retrospective and documentary film this year, David Bowie’s strikingly androgynous alter ego spearheaded the glam rock hit single "Starman" and album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, fundamentally challenging the core belief of “masculine” rock music in its day and fostering one of the biggest pop culture cults. Ironically, as an inexhaustibly innovative creative reference and fashion icon, the relatively short-lived Ziggy persona—regardless of Bowie’s subsequent reinventions—lives on stronger than ever today.

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