Experimenting in Luke Jerram's Museum of the Moon

An experiment in Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon at the Natural History Museum to test bringing together ideas of space travel and colonialism
Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon is  a projected sculpture of the moon - built up of NASA images of the surface of the moon

The space is dark and filled with abstract sounds that come and go, creating a space to look up at the moon and get lost in the detail

The test consisted of bringing together quotes from a reading list that developed through a process of connection to the site - starting from reading the cabinets around the museum and moving out towards news items at the time

I hoped that Luke Jerram’s installation would provide a space to gaze up to the moon and wonder / dream - listening to interconnected narratives while in the mode of dreaming - connecting the narratives to the moon and imagining the ideas beyond the surface

The writing was a work of curation- curating a route through different narratives and texts - creating juxtapositions and connections across narratives - intertwining chronologies and geographies

The categories were organised and grouped into:
- America in space
- the Outer Space Treaty from 1967
- Captain James Cook and his explorations
- the history and present reality of the Chagos Islands under British control
- von Braun and the Nazi Party

The writing was then read by 5 of us under Luke Jerram’s installation

Text from the test:
On the 12th September 1962, US President John F. Kennedy gave a speech encouraging the nation to support the mission to the moon:

“The vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished, still far outstrip our collective comprehension. No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come…

Man in his quest for knowledge and progress is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time. And no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations, can expect to stay behind in this race for space…

For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond. And we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.”

Signed in 1967, the Outer Space Treaty provides the basic framework on international space law, including the following principles:

1.   The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind

Upstairs there is a cabinet that tells the story of Captain James Cook who, from 1768 until 1771, commanded the Endeavour expedition to the South Pacific.

With him on the expedition were the astronomer Charles Green and the botanist and scientist Joseph Banks.

The expedition’s primary purpose was to observe the movement of Venus across the face of the Sun, only visible from the southern hemisphere of the Earth. This study would help them to calculate the distance between the Sun and the Earth.

The secondary purpose of the expedition was to search for the continent Terra Australis Incognita which was believed must exist in the southern hemisphere to balance out the landmasses of the northern hemisphere.

On the 20th July 1969, the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon.

2.   Outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States

3.   Outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means

In 1814, following Napolean’s defeat, the Treaty of Paris gave Tobago, St. Lucia and Mauritius (including the Chagos island) to Britain.

In 1934, German scientist Baron Wernher von Braun received his phD in Germany.

The Nazi party offered him directorship of a project to build rockets with a nearly unlimited budget and he accepted.

On the 21st July 1969, US President Nixon called the astronauts on the moon to congratulate them:

“Hello, Neil and Buzz. I’m talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House. And this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made. I just can’t tell you how proud we all are of what you’ve done. For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives. And for people all over the world, I am sure they too join with Americans in recognizing what an immense feat this is. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth. For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one: one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

In April of 1770, the HMS Endeavour landed on the east coast of Australia. Captain Cook claimed the land for Britain and called it New South Wales.

While Cook charted the coastline, Joseph Banks and his fellow scientists collected, named and illustrated natural history specimens.

In the 1960s the US was looking for a military base in the Indian Ocean in order to monitor Soviet activity and did a deal with the UK.

In 1966, the US and UK signed an agreement to use the Chagos island for military purpose, under the terms that each island should be without a resident civil population.

In 1968, Mauritius gained independence from British colonial rule apart from the Chagos island which still remains under British rule.

Von Braun’s research and work for the Nazi party led to the creation of the Vengeance Weapon 2 rocket. The V-2 rocket could travel at a speed of 3,580 miles per hour. It could hit its targets at 3 times the speed of sound meaning it could travel in silence, not giving any warning.

More than 3000 V-2 rockets were launched by the Nazi government, killing around 9,000 people – meanwhile around 12,000 people are estimated to have died in the making of the V-2 rockets in slave labour camps.

In 1773, Captain James Cook is quoted as saying:

“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for man to go.”

In 1968, Britain and the US began a forced eviction of the Chagos islanders so the island could be used as a military base, leading to the eviction of around 2000 people.

It is now the site of the military base called Camp Justice. The island is America’s largest military base, outside the US. There are more than 4000 troops, two bomber runways, thirty warships and a satellite spy station. The pentagon calls it an indispensable platform for policing the world.

In 1945 Von Braun surrendered to the Allies and was smuggled back to the US along with 100 of his assistants and 300 railroad cars of V-2 rockets and parts.

Von Braun and his assistants were pardoned and cleansed of their Nazi records and went on to work on the US space programme.

The Russians also took a number of V-2 engineers and moved them to the Soviet Union to work on their rocket programme.

During the expedition to New South Wales, Joseph Banks collected over 1000 previously unrecorded species of plants.

The Banksia plant type was named after Banks in honour of his work.

The plant list, which is an online database documenting all known plant species, returns 418 plants with the name Banksia.

The specimens collected on the Endeavour expedition became part of the foundation of the herbarium here at the Natural History Museum.

On the 9th August 2018, US Vice President Mike Pence announced the new US Space Force:

“As President Trump has said, in his words, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space, and so we will. And that is precisely why we are beginning the process of establishing the Space Force as the sixth bridge of our armed forces. Just, as in the past, when we created the air force, establishing the Space Force is an idea whose time has come. The space environment has fundamentally changed in the last generation: what was once peaceful and uncontested is now crowded and adversarial. Today, other nations are seeking to disrupt our space based systems and challenge American supremacy in space as never before.”

On the 22nd May 2019, the UN General Assembly voted for Britain to withdraw its administration of the Chagos Island.

Britain’s UN ambassador, Karen Pierce, told the assembly: “British Indian Ocean Territory has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814 … and it is not in our plan to give the islands to Mauritius”.

Ms Pierce said the UK stands by the 1965 agreement with the Mauritian Council of Ministers to detach the British Indian Ocean Territory in exchange for fishing rights and other benefits and a commitment “to cede the territory only when it is no longer needed for defence purposes”.

4.   States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner

5.   The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes

On the 12th March 2019, the Extrasolar Plants Encyclopaedia, which is an online database documenting all known planets outside of our solar system, reached 4000 recorded and validated planets.

The most recent planet to be catalogued, yesterday 10 June 2019, is called CI Tau b and has a mass of 3912 earth masses.

6.   Astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of all of mankind

Reflecting on the test
What rules am I using to determine the narratives that get included in the performance?

Using the site to determine the particular narratives and how to navigate through them?

How am I occupying the space? what is my relationship (colonising / appropriating?) to the site of the performance - in this case Luke Jerram’s artwork?

Conceptualising the narratives as a way of seeing beyond something in the site of performance - travelling through objects / site to see beyond

How do my methods of production / materiality reflect or add to the thematics I am exploring?

How to create a narrative that allows the interconnectedness between different topics while also being navigable by an audience and evoking ideas and questions (not too hermetic)