Ground Control

By

Published May 26, 2009

In books like Intelligent Life in the Universe and his television series “Cosmos,” astrophysicist Carl Sagan made the universe a lovable, learnable entity. Apparently, he wasn’t content keeping his didacticism to mere humans. In one of the more cosmically irreverent projects ever undertaken by NASA, Sagan (with the help of fellow Cornell astrophycist Frank Drake, and artist Jon Lomberg) chaired the Golden Record, a space time capsule. Sagan’s team compiled 115 disparate, quotidien images in the spirit ifmid-century Life Magazine, and audio information (mostly “natural” sounds, like birdsong and surf), to produce a summary of human existence. Their intended audience? Aliens. The team compressed the sounds and images, put them on a gold-plated copper disk equipped with a needle and instructions, and sent it into space on two unmanned spacecrafts, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. The Voyagers are still relatively close to Earth (if one considers Jupiter a neighbor) and both are still a long way from reaching another solar system. When they do—the approximate timing is 40,000 years from now—a curious space dweller might just discover the Golden Record and learn all about our Earthly existence. And our passion for soft noise. (LEFT: RELUCTANCE OF A GOVERNMENT AGENCY TO SWIM IN THE WATERS OF HUMAN SEXUALITY, 2009)

Inspired by both the imagery and conceptual premise of this project, Los Angeles-based artist Violet Hopkins created a body of ink on paper works, currently on view at Foxy Production. “Afraid He Might Be Mistaken for a Centaur,” the artist’s second solo show at this location, is named for a descriptive caption created for the Golden Record to accompany an image of a man riding a horse on a beach. The presumed logic of the statement, that an alien would bewell-versed in human mythology, is a sticking point for Hopkins, whose work endeavors to piece out the dichotomy between the project’s vanguard spirit and its “humancentric” assumed knowledge. The inclusion of 55 greetings in different languages on the Golden Record, when seen through a contemporary lens, only serves to underscore the subtle naiveté in the assumption that another galaxy’s extraterrestrial life would possess a physicality, culture or experience that would somehow mirror our own.

ONE OF THE MOST TREMENDOUS ENGINEERING ACHIEVEMENTS OF MAN, 2009

 

Hopkins drawings and paintings of the original images from the Golden Record act as an aesthetically revelatory revision of the conceptual premise of the project, illuminating the 70s–era logic that underpins the Golden Record as a cultural artifact. “I was interested in the curation of the images, and how bizarre their decision-making was,” says Hopkins. Indeed, the images selected to represent Earth to an inter-galactic species include a baby and a sheet, with no representation of the female involved in the birth process. Hopkins’ “Reluctance of a Government Agency to Swim in the Waters of Human Sexuality,” represents the only image to be censored in the project: it is a photograph of a naked man and woman holding hands. One wouldn’t want to give an extraterrestrial the wrong impression.

“Afraid He Migh be Mistaken for a Centaur” is on view through July 24. Foxy Production is located at 623 W. 27th St., New York.