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Introducing Space Feminisms

Bringing a new perspective to the space industry

Image by Grace Casas

In a world where billionaires launch rockets into space and move to Mars, Nahum and Marie Pier Boucher address our urgent need for a perspective that is anti-capitalist, feminist and creative

There’s nothing more toxic than a culture that is not self-critical.

Nahum

Space is a territory of firsts. First man on the moon, first commercial flight in space, first woman in space, first artworks in space, and the first dog in space. Whilst exciting, this narrative of firsts can become problematic when it creates a competitive dynamic.

Space is a black canvas for imaginary projects, but it has been confined to visions guided by military and commercial interests, an imperialist approach aimed at the economic domination of superpowers. We saw it during the Cold War as Russia and America competed on who would get there first, and we see it now as private companies work towards bringing commercial flights into space. We need a revolution in the way we think of space and its narratives here on earth.

Experiments in imagining otherwise

Every revolutionary movement starts with a process of imagination. As feminist author Lola Olufemi says, “Feminism is a political project about what could be. It’s always looking forward, invested in futures we can’t quite grasp yet. It’s a way of wishing, hoping, aiming at everything that has been deemed impossible. It’s a task that has to be approached seriously – we must think about the limits of this world and the possibilities contained in the ones we could craft together.”

In Mexico and Canada, two artistic souls are questioning the way we have been populating space imagery. “Of course, fundamental research on the origin of the universe, supposedly neutral, will always be important, but can the aspiration to imagine the cosmos not generate other possible visions relying on various cultural sensibilities?”

This is the question asked in Space Feminisms, a concept that came to researcher Marie Pier Boucher as she saw the scene of a “penis levitating in space” in the 1997 film, Out of the Present. Boucher was immediately fascinated, wondering that if men could levitate their phallus, “how can we bring a feminist perspective to the space industry? What can we bring to levitate?” 

Two years ago, Boucher paired up with Berlin-based, Mexican multi-disciplinary artist and musician, Nahum (Nahum Romero Zamora), whose work bridges the art and the space world. This concept will soon culminate with the book Space Feminisms, which will be published next year by Bloomsbury. The added “s” is because this project seeks to be intersectional and invite different experts to the table, and will be co-edited by various researchers, curators, and artists.

Repopulating the space imaginary

Boucher and Nahum want to repopulate the space imaginary with artistic projects constructed according to feminist perspectives. 

Boucher defines herself as a “problematiser”, someone who seeks to shed light on world issues. She is not a firestarter, but a curious academic mind with a very visible artistic soul. “We are trying to capture what a non-normative history of space would be, without putting a tag on what space feminism needs to be,” she says.

There is clearly a misrepresentation in the space industry, where only 20% of the workforce are women. Boucher tells me that historically women were never called austronauts, but more usually referred to in the media as “austronautrix, spacelady, astronette, feminaut”. Yet this is not only about diversity, it is an exercise of questioning how things have been done. 

“Diversity is something that sometimes makes me cringe,” Boucher explains. “It has been used by the neo-liberal system to oppress the marginalised.”

The idea here is to create a new space where we can reconsider the present and the future of contemporary terrestrial society. “The beauty of the Space Feminisms project is that it has a unique approach, where academics and artists are coming together to present a world where women create a world in space, not just as a reaction to lack of representation, but in a way that is affirmative,” Boucher says. 

Diversity is something that sometimes makes me cringe.

Marie Pier Boucher

Nahum is the bridge builder; founder of KOSMICA, a global institute that helps bridge the gap between art, culture, and space narratives. For over a decade, he has created projects in both the art world and the space world – and has had a 360 vision of how things work in both. His work is rooted in bringing the conversations around identity, diversity, feminism and culture that he witnesses in the art world, to the space industry. KOSMICA develops rockets as much as ideas.

Founded in 2011, KOSMICA promotes poetical, critical perspectives of outer space activities and their impact on Earth

Considered a visionary, Nahum has developed cultural and artistic projects with ESA, NASA, Roscosmos and SpaceX, and was the first artist to be recognised as a Young Space Leader by the International Astronautical Federation for his contributions to astronautics and space exploration.

“For me, the most interesting part of all is coming up with these new perspectives on certain conversations and bringing them back to these spaces with a renewed vision,” Nahum tells me. “Almost like a moon bounce effect.” No pun intended! 

Space Feminisms could be defined as an artistic criticism of today’s space industry, an exploration of a new world through feminist lens. What is being looked at here, through conversations between artists and scientists, is how we approach a barren land without a colonialist and extractive lens. The space race has been metaphoric of the capitalist narrative of arriving at the top, faster than everyone else. 

“The space race is fast, it has to be quick. But having rocket launches every day would be extremely problematic for our atmosphere,” says Nahum, so where do we stop? “We have to be very careful, take steps slowly” he continues. 

“We need to undo the ‘first’ narrative. Create a new politics of symbiosis and interdependence,” says Boucher. The idea of putting artists and scientists together was so that discourses around space, diversity and the space industry could be tackled in a radically different way. 

The Contour of Presence rocket launch, KOSMICA, 2018

“Art provides ways of thinking outside the box, one that stimulates the senses but keeps a critical eye on the world. There’s nothing more toxic than a culture that is not self-critical,” says Nahum – a phrase that lands right at the centre of the chest. 


Are you inspired? Dig deeper


While you are waiting for the Space Feminisms book to come out, check out this list of seven films, magazines, collective and resources for people who want to be introduced to new perspectives – as compiled by Nahum and Marie Pier Boucher.

The Philadelphia-based Black Quantum Futurism, whose women-led Black Space agency multidisciplinary installation asks for “Black spatial and temporal autonomy”, is an example of Boucher’s curation for Space Feminisms put into practice. The artists have a deep interest in quantum physics and time travel, as well as an interest in researching cultural traditions from the Black and African diaspora. Their community-engaged art provides a creative way of envisioning “a brighter present” that is also practical.

In Hidden Figures, three female African-American mathematicians play a pivotal role in astronaut John Glenn’s launch into orbit. Meanwhile, they also have to deal with racial and gender discrimination at work.

In Contact, Dr Ellie, a radio astronomer, discovers the existence of intelligent aliens through radio signals. She and a group of fellow scientists decipher the instructions that they send to build a machine.

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She Should Have Gone To The Moon, 2018
Documentary

She Should Have Gone to the Moon is a documentary about Jerri Truhill, one of 13 women who trained to go into orbit in the early years of the US’ space programme, but who never made it because of sexism in Nasa and the US government.

Occuring on roughly the 30th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s famous first walk on the moon, Aleksandra Mir’s low-budget, deliberately fake performance, First Woman on the Moon, formed a wry feminist comment on the persistence of gender inequality – a sort of counterpart to Armstrong’s “one small step for man“. 28 August 1999. The day when heavy machinery and manpower transformed a Dutch beach into a lunar landscape of hills and craters. At sunset the labor stopped, and a live drumbeat announced the ceremony of a woman, gracing this imaginary moon with an American flag. The same evening, while the party still went on, the landscape was flattened out again, leaving no physical trace of the event behind – save the memories and a story to tell future generations.

Interweaving science, myth, art and language, Liliane Lijn’s Moonmeme proposes to use the moon as a living canvas. In a work that demonstrates the interlocking of opposites, Lijn writes the single word SHE across the moon in letters large enough to be seen from Earth.

Can the aspiration to imagine the cosmos not generate other possible visions relying on various cultural sensibilities? Often confined to visions dictated by military and commercial interests, the history of space programmes seems, in fact, restricted to the imperial and economic domination of global superpowers. Espace art actuel was put together in an entirely different perspective. Marie-Pier Boucher gathered various texts that seek to repopulate the space imaginary with artistic projects constructed according to feminist perspectives.


What’s so good about this?

Screening a film on Mars. Interior designing on the Moon? What if creative expression became the pen with which we write our future? 

Imagine space as a second chance for humans to explore beyond through a lens that doesn’t consider extraction or appropriation, but connection and creative expression, as guiding principles.

The latter is innate in us. From an early age, we are attracted to sounds, colours, objects and textures. They are the ways in which we form our beautiful brains. In a world that values art in an egoic way, and kills creativity’s relevance, artists are dancing rebels. 

Art is a revolutionary tool because it provides a way of dealing with chaos that is rooted in beauty and emotion. In this world, Art is another way to survive. 

Meet the writer

Virginia Vigliar is a writer, editor and narrative investigator. Her work seeks poetic antidotes to systemic issues, exploring and infusing feminist theory, social justice, language and emotionality. She has written for Atmos about political sisterhood and mycelium root systems, and on Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The New York Times, Vice and more. She is the editor of Tilt Magazine and every month, on The Art Corner, she weaves conversations on topics such as beauty, identity, masculinity, body, and social justice. As a narrative investigator, she shifts, reframes, and questions narratives around social justice and feminism. Words are her comfort zone, she is working on the rest. Follow @vivivigliar

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