Ralo Mayer

Space Un/Settlements. Performative Research of the interactions between life in outer space and on Earth

From the very first visions of space exploration in the late 19th century to billionaire Elon Musk’s recently announced plans to colonize Mars, the idea of humans living in space has been the subject of scientific experimentation, philosophical deliberations, artistic speculation as well as political and economic scheming. My PhD project approaches these concepts, to this day often significantly termed “space colonization”, as a pivotal example for the relationship between outer space and society.

I will explore how ideas, designs and actual experiments for space settlements have unsettled our understanding of life and living, here, on our planet. Moreover, these „Space UnSettlements“ manifest current issues of ecological, socio-political and economic crisis scenarios, many of which are directly linked to transdisciplinary discussions of the Anthropocene.

The project builds on my continuous artistic work in this field, in particular on 1970s space colony enthusiasm and the 1990’s closed ecosystem experiment Biosphere 2. Whereas the former originates in 1960s counterculture, the ecological movement, and various doomsday predictions at the time (“The Limits to Growth”, “The Population Bomb”), the latter reflects upon the various transformations of so-called “globalization” that became prominent in the 1990s and whose reverberations, failures, and broken promises have fundamentally shaped today’s world.

My research will specifically elaborate on inherent aspects relevant for current ecological theory, architectural discourse and socio-political implications along the following questions:

– How have scenarios of space exploration (both real and speculative) correlated and 
interacted with social, cultural and political developments of the past century? What is 
the specific role of concepts of human life in space?

– How have little known, yet influential traces of concepts for space settlements 
influenced contemporary discussions of ecology, architecture, as well as socio-political 
areas of conflict?

– How has the space-society complex changed after the Cold War? Do these 
transformations reveal new perspectives, and perhaps also agency, towards current and future issues often associated with the Anthropocene?

By employing and elaborating on my existing practice of “performative research”– a processual strategy of artistic research based on theatrical practices and theories of performativity–the project furthermore aims to discuss and develop artistic methodologies of investigation, knowledge production, and an exchange with both experts and a broader public.

I intend to translate my research into a series of video essays that integrate artistic, scholarly and documentary strategies. While these videos can be presented as individual films, I will also develop installation and exhibition settings that augment and recombine the videos’ time-based logic with the unique possibilities of spatial and performative realizations.

Supervision: Ferdinand Schmatz

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Image: // Abbildung: San Francisco Space Colony, Ralo Mayer, 2014.