Laurie Anderson Creates a Virtual Reality Installation That Takes Viewers on an Unconventional Tour of the Moon

Next year, NASA will cel­e­brate the 50th anniver­sary of the moon land­ing, and as part of the cel­e­bra­tion will restore the orig­i­nal beige and green con­trol pan­els from the late 60’s Mis­sion Con­trol. “We want to take you back to July 20, 1969,” says direc­tor of the non-prof­it Space Cen­ter Hous­ton, the offi­cial vis­i­tors cen­ter for the John­son Space Cen­ter. “You’re going to expe­ri­ence the final few moments before Neil Arm­strong and Buzz Aldrin land­ed on the moon for the first time.”

But the agency isn’t only look­ing back to half a cen­tu­ry ago. It’s also look­ing for­ward to launch­ing more moon expe­di­tions—in part­ner­ship with com­mer­cial and inter­na­tion­al agencies—next year. And while those of us who aren’t astro­nauts or bil­lion­aires are unlike­ly to ever see the moon up close, Lau­rie Ander­son, NASA’s first artist-in-res­i­dence, can trans­port view­ers there for the cost of a tick­et to Den­mark.

Start­ing last month and run­ning until Jan­u­ary 2019, the country’s Louisiana Muse­um of Mod­ern Art fea­tures Anderson’s new moon-themed vir­tu­al real­i­ty project as part of its exhi­bi­tion The Moon: From Inner Worlds to Out­er Space.

Cre­at­ed with mul­ti­me­dia artist Hsin-Chien Huang—with whom Ander­son col­lab­o­rat­ed on anoth­er beau­ti­ful VR expe­ri­ence last year—this project trans­ports vis­i­tors to a vir­tu­al moon, where they can view con­stel­la­tions invent­ed by Ander­son, sym­bols of things that have, or that seem poised to, dis­ap­pear: a dinosaur, a polar bear, democ­ra­cy. “All of those things that you think are so sta­ble are so frag­ile, and can be lost,” she says in the video intro­duc­tion to her project above.

So, okay, it’s not the moon Arm­strong and Aldrin plant­ed their country’s flag on in 1969. It’s also pop­u­lat­ed by dinosaurs, birds, and oth­er crea­tures cre­at­ed from a lat­tice­work of DNA mol­e­cules.

Not only did Ander­son and Huang depict a thrilling fan­ta­sy VR moon, but they also cre­at­ed a “’hideous’ ver­sion,” reports CNN, “in which peo­ple had dumped all the radioac­tive mate­r­i­al from Earth. “We did dif­fer­ent phas­es of the moon,” says Ander­son, “dif­fer­ent aspects, looked not just at the roman­ti­cism of the moon but dystopias.” This isn’t her first for­ay into moon-themed art. As artist-in-res­i­dence at NASA since 2003, she has had some time to reflect on the agency’s mis­sion.

After her first year with NASA, she debuted a 90-minute per­for­mance piece called “The End of the Moon,” the sec­ond in a tril­o­gy she described as an “epic poem” about con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can cul­ture. She is not the obvi­ous choice to work for a gov­ern­ment agency. Her work has been fierce­ly crit­i­cal of the country’s wars and its repres­sion on the domes­tic front. “Frankly, I find liv­ing in Amer­i­can cul­ture at the moment real­ly prob­lem­at­ic,” she said back in 2004. “But when I think of NASA, it’s the one thing that feels future-ori­ent­ed in a way that’s inspir­ing.”

Look­ing both back­ward and for­ward, next year’s anniver­sary of the moon land­ing will give us all rea­sons to think about humanity’s past and future in out­er space. Will it include “unbe­liev­able aspi­ra­tions,” as Ander­son mused, like “the green­ing of Mars,” or the dystopi­an dump­ing of radioac­tive waste on the Moon? Giv­en the trash and trea­sure of our cur­rent rela­tion­ship with the cosmos—not to men­tion our own planet—probably both. See more 2‑D excerpts from Ander­son and Huang’s piece in the scene test above, and, if you can score a tick­et, enter the full VR expe­ri­ence at the Louisiana Muse­um of Mod­ern Art.

via @dark_shark

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lau­rie Ander­son Intro­duces Her Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Instal­la­tion That Lets You Fly Mag­i­cal­ly Through Sto­ries

21 Artists Give “Advice to the Young:” Vital Lessons from Lau­rie Ander­son, David Byrne, Umber­to Eco, Pat­ti Smith & More

Lau­rie Anderson’s Top 10 Books to Take to a Desert Island

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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