Art Travels to Space: Celebrating Ocean Life using AI, Biology, and Space
Written by Genie Davis
When Beyond Earth artist Richelle Gribble was working as the artist-in-residence at the Biosphere 2 enclosed ecosystem, she learned that the Earth system science research facility had also formed a new start-up company, Space Perspective, the world’s first luxury spaceflight experience company.
And so, a collaborative effort was born. The Beyond Earth artist collective teamed up with Space Perspective to add creativity and environmental advocacy into an ambitious artwork – as part of the inaugural test flight of Neptune One, which flew to the edge of space on June 18th, 2021.
The artwork “Living Light” was itself a collaboration, between Beyond Earth members Yoko Shimizu, Elena Soterakis, and Richelle Gribble. They fused artificial intelligence, biology and aerospace in the work, to celebrate the World Ocean from space.
According to Gribble, “’Living Light’ flew via space balloon from the Space Coast, adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center. Upon lift-off the artwork traveled 100,000-feet above Earth and landed in the Atlantic, where it was retrieved by boat.” She notes “The design of the capsule was created for spaceflight and return to Earth, built with a resilient structure to leave no trace both on and off Earth. The entire spaceflight journey was recorded with multiple 360-degree cameras housed on the interior of the artwork.”
Creating the lustrous work itself, the collaborating Beyond Earth artists were inspired by the name of Space Perspective’s passenger vessel, Neptune One, and the ocean itself, as well as marine organisms found off the Space Coast.
There was a particular emphasis on the idea that “Many marine species are considered ‘aliens of the sea’ because of their glow-in-the-dark features, bioluminescence, iridescence and weightless motion. For this reason, the artwork utilizes biomimicry to replicate the biodiversity of various marine organisms. We used artificial intelligence to create a summation design of over 1000 images of aquatic species, which serves as the inner organs of our Living Light creature.” The materials they used included “iridescent PVC, glow-in-the-dark materials, floats and various vinyl adhesives that transform during spaceflight and can withstand the harsh elements of space,” Gribble says.
Additionally, Gribble notes “At the nucleus of ‘Living Light’ we included ‘To Space, From Earth,’ a small vial containing synthetic DNA sequenced with artwork made by each artist of the collective, representing life on Earth during the 21st Century.”
Creating the work was necessarily highly collaborative, and primarily virtual, Gribble relates, as it took place during the pandemic. “[We’re] an all-female team of three artists located in Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo. This project was developed initially online during lockdown, where prototyping, testing, designing and collaborations took place by phone and on Zoom.”
Once developed, the artwork was assembled by Gribble and Soterakis at the Kennedy Space Center along with the Space Perspective team. “One of the highlights of the process was working with Space Perspective’s engineers Zane Macagnano and Wyatt Wolf on the creation, illustrating a stunning collaboration in art and science,” Gribble enthuses.
She describes the work as exploring “the connections between our Blue Planet and the boundlessness of outer space. Launched to space shortly after World Ocean Day, we hope this artwork can remind us that our planet contains remarkable species with vibrant biodiversity that must remain at the forefront of our focus as we evolve beyond Earth.”
And Gribble stresses that artistic research is an important part of space exploration. “Now more than ever, we need a diversity of voices to shape the dialogue around space travel. It gives us the opportunity to shape a more equitable future and re-envision what a multi-planetary species can be.”
While you may not have seen the work as it flew through space, viewers had a chance to see elements here on earth and will again soon.
During the countdown to the space launch, components of this project were exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo as well as the Museum of Design Atlanta. After a successful spaceflight, photos and video footage received from the stratosphere will appear in upcoming exhibitions.
Gribble notes “The Beyond Earth collective is developing a more comprehensive exhibition to advocate for marine ecosystems and share this newfound perspective of Earth and it’s aquatic inhabitants.”
This project was supported by Space Perspective in celebration of their inaugural launch of Neptune One. “Working with Space Perspective and their team of aerospace engineers was the ultimate space and art collaboration, serving as the first of many more collaborations to come from the Beyond Earth artist collective,” Gribble says.
Whatever those future collaborations may include, they’re sure to be beautifully out of this world.