During the Cold War the major political players tried to trump each other with space technology. Most notably, the Soviet space station Mir and the US space shuttle programme attempted to assert their respective country’s invulnerability and dominance. The photographs from the archive of the German news magazine Der Spiegel that lined the way into ‘Rückkehr ins All’ (Return to Space) provided the historical backdrop to the space race, which persisted until 1989. Yet this multi-layered exhibition focused on contemporary artistic production, from painting to internet art, taking history only as a tentative cue.
With the immediacy of the Soviet–American confrontation gone, artists have taken a more ‘relaxed’ point of view – such was the curatorial premise of this exhibition. After their excitement about space in the 1960s and subsequent disillusionment from the 1970s onwards, artists’ interests came to be dominated by historical and cultural references. Tom Sachs’ The Crawler (2003), a large-scale model of the space shuttle Challenger, which broke apart shortly after take-off in 1986, was a memorial to technology that NASA is about to abandon. Similarly the video Dreamtime (2001), by Jane and Louise Wilson, documented a relic of space travel – the former Soviet rocket launch station in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Both works figured as direct and literal memories of the techno-political ambitions to which the Soviet Union and USA once clung.
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