Tom Sachs takes New York City to Mars in his new immersive installation at the Park Avenue Armory, SPACE PROGRAM: MARS, co-presented by Creative Time and the Armory. For four weeks, the artist and a crew of thirteen will enact various missions and rituals as if on Mars, albeit a world of faux space suits, space ships, and craters, constructed of plywood, found junk, and several trips to the hardware store. At Tuesday night’s opening preview, guests sipped ‘Astronaut Sunrise with Mars Salt Rim’ and ‘Vader Piss,’ including the likes of Kanye West, Julian Schnabel, Nate Lowman, and Hanna Liden, with Bill Powers manning the Indoctrination station. According to the press release, Sach’s work “provokes reflection on the haves and have-nots, utopian follies and dystopian realities, while asking barbed questions of modern creativity that relate to conception, production, consumption, and circulation.” One visitor remarked, “I wanted sand, red sand everywhere… but other than that, it’s great!”
Upon entering the vast Wade Thompson Drill Hall visitors are prompted by the hand-painted ‘Book of Law’ to “Turn off your cell phone and turn on your mind.” Passing the popcorn scented cinema, the space opens up, filled with various space vehicles and accessories across the hall. The first spotlighted piece, off to the side and less-than-glamorous, is a wooden version of a concrete cinder block, with “lightning holes” drilled throughout to save weight, reminding one of a hollow bird bone. Perhaps the cornerstone for the show, or perhaps just a flight-modified piece from Sach’s last show, Work, the exhibition quickly moves on to more interactive work, with skinny tie-clad, pocket-protected assistants explaining any and all futuristic features throughout.
A black fridge wears a cape and Darth Vader helmet, opened by an assistant to display its contents of ‘old style mini Buds’—at full capacity—and the freezer section below lined with vodka. Hot Nuts are packaged in tin foil on a one-girl assembly line somewhat sweat-shop style. Notably, a men’s ‘nut cup’ protection device is part of the contraption. Appropriated scoreboards and an ‘APPLAUSE’ sign tower over Mission Control, a grid of old TVs airing space-related footage. Across the hall, among the grouping of red ‘rocks’—Mars’ surface—a small rotating camera streams surveillance back to the largest, main TV. Adorning several of the sculptural works, foil-lined upside down umbrellas face toward the sky.
The ‘Launch’ station features a small rocket launched by an electric pulley at the flip of a switch. Strategically placed cameras and contextual clues—including a fog machine—complete its purpose as prop, reused from Sach’s earlier voyage to the moon, SPACE PROGRAM (2007) at Gagosian Gallery. The assistant at the station, Chris, informed AO that the omnipresent chevron striped 2x4s originally came from objects Sachs found on the street near his Centre Street studio. However, the particular pieces he would use have gone out of production, now forced to reproduce the style in-house, down to the electric company’s iron-branded logo.
For the astronauts to get around—and be pulled on skateboards—the Mars Excursion Roving Vehicle (MERV) is a battery operated buggy, with a golf cart front and a broom on the back. Sweeping is an important aspect and skill of the Sachs team, with a video devoted to the subject.
An old Winnebago Brave displays space suits and other equipment through a large glass window cut out of the vehicle’s left side. The Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) also sports several large antennas, appropriate dashboard controls, and a Connecticut license plate. Across the floor rests a smaller mobile greenhouse, and a station of several collapsible bikes makes up part of the Journeyman piece, which also includes a selection of knolled tools.
Knolled tools are a product of Bullet 8 from the Cinema’s Ten Bullets (2010) (a guide to being a studio assistant): Always Be Knolling (A.B.K.). “Knolling is the process of arranging like objects in parallel or 90 degree angles as a method of organization.” Bullet 9 teaches assistants to turn off lights and avoid other studio faux pas under penalty of fines, citing the disciplinary technique of James Brown, who plays a major role in Sach’s work. And Bullet 10 is simply Persistence. The film rotates with COLOR (2011), another film by Sachs.
At the far end of the hall, ‘INDOCTRINATION’ looms above a small open office area, fronted by a table of Bill Powers and ‘Cook’ in Prada-labeled lab coats, administering ‘oral exams.’ With questions such as, “If you had a billion dollars, would you stop world hunger or save the environment?” and, “Spoon or fork?” not many passed, though this writer did. Receiving a small square of paper, officially stamped ‘NASA,’ a follow-up exam plus an hour session of sweeping may land me on the Mars team, gaining official access to the Lunar Excursion Vehicle (LEV). About the LEV, a young boy questioned an assistant, “Can you use the bathroom in there? Where does it go?” The assistant responded, pointing to something inside, “Yes, it just turns to gas and goes out there.”
After passing through the Robert Irwin Scrim Clean Air Room (RISCAR) (2012) to the hall outside, a space museum and store invite visitors for two last stops. The museum displays a few drawings alongside several ‘artifacts,’ providing a close up view of the nuts and bolts which are literally part of the equipment. In the store, Sachs’ collaborations with Nike go for a couple hundred dollars, including Mars Yard Shoes, jackets featuring the period table printed on the lining, and a trio of bags made of automotive airbag materials.
Each Thursday at 8PM, Sachs and his team will perform “Flight Plan,” a ninety-minute demonstration of the sculptural systems and life on Mars. Other programs include an Artist Talk with Sachs on Friday, June 1, Breakfast with (actual NASA) Mars Scientists May 26 and June 16, and weekend family programming complete with art-making stations.
Exhibition Site [Tom Sachs Mars]
Artist Site [Tom Sachs]
Tom Sachs Movies [Youtube]
Nike Collaboration Site [NIKEcraft]
Artifacts | Man on a Mission [New York Times]
Tom Sachs Lifts Off For Mars Propelled By Booze, Opium [Bloomberg]