The performance and works of installation playing out at the Whitney Museum as part of “Red In View” revolve around Mars: as a future potential place for human habitation, as a site of untapped resources, and as a place to which our origins might be traced. The artist, who goes by the name MPA, began to be fascinated by the great red planet after relocating to the Mojave Desert in 2013. She spoke to Artinfo about how this earthly change in location prompted her to look towards the stars, and her plans to set up home in the Museum for ten days during the month of February.
What prompted the move to the Mojave Desert? Where had you been based prior to that?
A combination of things prompted the move. I received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts (FCA) grant to artists at the same time that a group of us were being pushed out of our studios in Brooklyn. I was feeling averse to the city and craved nature. The grant money was substantial; I had visited Joshua Tree in the past and had friends in L.A., and I thought why don't I move there for six months? Well, six months is going on five years now! I rent a house and a studio on the edge of Twentynine Palms, in California, that I share with my partner and dog.
What about that move, or this new location, instigated this line of investigation in your practice?
At the same time that I moved to Twentynine Palms, (well technically first I lived in Wonder Valley — a place east of Twentynine Palms without a zip code), I learned of Mars One. It’s mainly a Dutch organization, and their plan is to take 15 humans to Mars now by 2030 (initially 2023), and make a televised “reality” show of the travel to Mars and the eventual human settlement on the planet. Five years ago, the Mars One mission felt provocative, outlandish to me. I was less interested in whether Mars One (or I as soon learned, NASA's missions) would succeed, but became focused more—whether they succeeded or not—on this idea in the cultural imagination.
Humans desire to colonize Mars. And further, humans have begun putting this desire into action. In tangent with this, Twentynine Palms is home to the largest Marine military base in the U.S. At the home I rent our windows frequently rattle from bombs and artillery at the base. I zoomed in on the idea of colonization in the context of militarized behavior, which has been defended and rationalized as human nature. War is an invention, in my understanding, not a human biological determination. Being here, I observe the continual authoring of that invention in the war rehearsals called combat training at the military base. The show “Red in View” is inseparable from me being in this place. I walk a lot in the desert collecting trash and these pieces have found shape in arrangements in my home and eventually discovered themselves as a floor drawing — a poem — that I included in the installation. This area is also enriched by celestial and aerial sighting of known kind and unknown kind. Pictures I took of celestial bodies like the moon, or flare sightings above my home, became images included in this installation — framed photographic notes to the mysteries within the night sky, and the surveying dynamic that is both natural and artificial. Perhaps less obvious of an influence but major to this line of inquiry is the number of conversations I’ve had with psychics and astrologers in this area. The dead are among us, communicating in manners that trip facts into sciences of fiction. Conferring with these sources has been informative in thinking about the present narrative for a human future in space. Yes, one thing led to the next here.
Tell me about the different components involved in what you are presenting at the Whitney. At what points will you be physically present in the space?
Well, the Whitney installation is unfolding in three acts. There is the installation in the lobby gallery with the live artwork “The Interview” in which museum visitors can pick up an active phone line and possibly engage in an anonymous conversation instigated by the topic of Mars. Then, forthcoming is “Orbit” and “Assembly” in the museum's theater. Malin Arnell, Amapola Prada, and I will be living in a two by sixteen foot window in the theater for ten days, an analog to the biospheres and other enclosure projects that humans currently engage with on Earth to prepare for a life in space and on another planet. We will be packing in all of our supplies for the 10 days at the onset of entering, and packing out our waste upon leaving. This experiment will be on view to the museum public February 9-19, with us emerging from this environment at the end in a live and theatrical event called “Assembly.”
Is there anything specific that you do to prepare for durational performances?
Think and ask. Think and ask. Think and do.
Seriously, my studio before a performance is a sea of paper and notes. I feel akin to a detective, but the case folder is titled “paradox.” My live work is often the result of self-interrogation and interrogative and contemplative relationships with collaborators. Why do, for who, and for what, are basic driving questions. The site of the live work is always in consideration. For this upcoming piece, “Orbit,” I am proposing to do “real theater,” and I have asked past collaborators Malin and Amapola to join me in this experiment. I want us to engage in a live work that enthusiastically combines metaphor with responses to real conditions. In writing, that might sound obvious and blatant, but in action, the nuances experienced in this task will be trying. In this environment — living in a 2 x 16 foot window vestibule in the museum's theater — we propose to react as actors performing to set cues along with demonstrations of unplanned self-effacement. We anticipate a blurring of these distinctions to be revealing to the experiment's claim: Can real theater, a performance that is double consciousness, be a counter-act to a contemporary climate riddled by mediatized spectacle and consumer identity? In other words, can metaphor prick at the insulatory and infinite desensitizing behavior that is apart of societies contracted by spectacle?
In the work where you are not physically present, but rather the viewer is activated in some way (for example, “The Interview”) do you think of it in terms of a static installation, or is this, to you, a performative work in which the viewer plays the active part?
“The Interview” quickly becomes a conversation between the two people on either end of the phone. I consider this to be a live artwork animated by everyone involved.
Has your understanding or conception of “Mars” (its actual physicality, its mythos, and its distance and relationship to earth) changed from when you first set out on making this work?
Yes. My conception of Mars has migrated from being a force for war and revolution, to an inevitable human destination, to a mother of the human race, to an imaginary form. It feels challenging to summarize this tour of thought, but forever meaningful. I created “The Interview” as a piece to park questions around these conceptions. What do fellow human beings feel about human plans to colonize Mars, about human life on Mars, about the existence of extraterrestrial life, and about the existence of an interdimensional identity? I believe these are themes of our time and that we are on the onset of a human future in space. What does that mean, beyond a technical level, but in the sense of matterful life and death?
Mars is an action planet, a do planet. If you get down with understanding that human life is interconnected with the orbits and materiality of nearby celestial forms such as Mars, than you will know what I mean here when I say that the influence of Mars is to go, to charge ahead, to make happen. I cannot help but be curious to this ironic relationship: humans, currently existing in an age of war on planet Earth, are focused on arriving to a planet that archetypically has been the ruler of war and revolution.
From the Blouin Artinfo online posting by Juliet Helmke on December 21, 2016.