Artlab photo

Protest signs litter the outside of Artlab's new exhibition, Protectorate 1: A Darker Side of the Moon.

Ashton Kutcher has bought his ticket to the moon. Have you?

While the $200,000 per seat may be a little steep for a student budget, Artlab’s current exhibit brings students one step closer to space exploration, along with issues of colonization and resource extraction that may come with it.

Kristy Robinson’s Museum and Curatorial Practicum class has curated Protectorate 1: A Darker Side of the Moon as a speculative and fictional instalment on the moon. With NASA proposing that the moon be deemed an international heritage site, the class aims to explore what this kind of “moon museum” would look like and to address questions of space supremacy, celestial colonization and preservation.

Set in the year 2085, visitors approach the exhibit to see piles of protest signs littered beneath lists of sponsors for the (fake) moon mining company, Protectorate One. Communications co-ordinator and fourth-year museum studies student, Regan Benner, explains that this is meant to show the outrage that resource extraction would cause.

Fundraiser and fellow museum studies student, Harper Wellman, agrees that humans shouldn’t have the right to extract resources from a celestial object. “I think it calls into question too many different forces that could fight over the moon or even over any other celestial object,” he says. “And I think our protest signs really show that by saying things like, “not worth human lives.”

Robinson says that details in the exhibit like the leftover protest signs, “look at the question of whether items left on the moon by the lunar missions should be protected” as well as questions surrounding the responsibility and benefit of a moon museum. Visitors are thrown right into these discussions by the immersive nature of the show.

Entering the installation is a walk straight into a space console — impressively detailed on large black walls using chalk and surround sound. From there, the gallery reveals an archive of NASA documentation and lunar facts, space food, photographs, certificates of moon real estate and a galactic gift shop all centred around astronaut footprints in a mound of moon debris.

“As a class we came together and decided to critique colonization and commercialization,” Wellman says.

Benner adds that this is especially significant in light of companies like Virgin Galactic Enterprises scheduling future trips to the moon. “People like Ashton Kutcher are already purchasing these seats to travel to space,” she says. “So we wanted to comment on the ethical issues involved with that.”

Protectorate 1 seeks to speculate and predict how issues of space colonization may arise much like previous generations have speculated about space exploration as a whole. This is communicated through “artifacts” in the gallery such as the original publication of “Mr. Smith Goes to Venus” by artist and former NASA employee, Chesley Bonestell.

As Wellman points out, the exhibit also taps into a current moment that space is having in pop culture. A resurgence of films like Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian and Hidden Figures prove that the exhibit is well-timed to discuss issues of space exploration and exploitation.

Robinson is pleased with the end result and the hard work by her eight practicum students. “It’s humorous and funny, but also asks very serious questions about the future of museums and the future of human presence on the moon.” 

Protectorate 1: a Darker Side of the Moon will be on display from March 2-16 at the Artlab gallery, open Monday to Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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Culture Editor

Amy is a second year English and Visual Arts student in Western's faculty of Arts and Humanities. This is her first year as a culture editor at the Gazette. For comments or feedback, email her at amy.skodak@westerngazette.ca.

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