Scientists and engineers gather around Lockheed Martin’s thermal vacuum chamber to watch the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft enter one of its last phases of testing. 02/2016. – University of Arizona/Symeon Platts- courtesy of NASA. As part of NASA’s We The Explorers, the work ‘Blitz’ by Artist Tom Estes is on board a small spacecraft known as OSIRIS-REx, which is using gravity’s pull to help propel it to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu.
The mission OSIRIS-REx, launched Sept. 8, 2016, on the back of an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on 8 September 2016. The rocket gave OSIRIS the momentum it required to use Earth’s gravity to swing towards the asteroid. And it has now completed a carefully calibrated slingshot move around Earth which will let it land on Bennu. As planned, the spacecraft will reach Bennu in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023. The mission? Bring back at least a couple ounces of the asteroid so scientists can explore how planets formed and life began. It will be the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid and return a sample to Earth if its mission is a success.
Gravity is the key to getting the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to Bennu. There are a number of benefits to using gravity to propel OSIRIS-REx to Bennu. Mike Moreau, the OSIRIS-REx Flight Dynamics Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland says, “Using the Earth Gravity Assist opens up trajectory options that use less fuel. In this case, the Earth flyby is changing the plane of OSIRIS-REx’s orbit by approximately 6 degrees, which will align the spacecraft with the orbit of Bennu.” Jeff Grossman, OSIRIS-REx Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, adds, “The spacecraft’s long path to Bennu, including the Earth Gravity Assist, was carefully chosen to allow it to reach the asteroid, conduct all of the necessary rendezvous maneuvers, and get back to Earth within the amount of fuel the spacecraft can carry onboard.”
Moreau notes, “OSIRIS-REx will fly by the Earth at an altitude of 10,700 miles (17,200 km) and will be traveling too fast to be completely captured by Earth’s gravity.” For decades, astronomers observed how a planet’s gravity could move large objects, like comets, out of their orbit. Then, in 1974, NASA’s Mariner 10 became the first spacecraft to employ the slingshot effect, also known as a gravity assist, to reach another planet. The gravity of Venus was used to help Mariner 10 reach Mercury. Now, NASA scientists and engineers are using Earth’s gravity to slingshot OSIRIS-REx on to Bennu, a relatively small asteroid about the height of the Empire State Building.
As the spacecraft approaches Earth, it will receive an increasing gravitational tug from our planet. It will essentially steal some momentum from the planet and in the process, change its speed and direction. In the months leading up to the gravity assist, the spacecraft’s thrusters were fired on two different occasions to adjust the precise target and time of the flyby. The flyby was designed to make the precise velocity change needed to arrive at Bennu in the fall of 2018.
As part of NASA’s We The Explorers, Estes’ work ‘Blitz was put on a microchip and placed on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. In the work an individual is depicted being thrown through the air by a lightning bolt, superimposed on to a Victorian Bible open to the story of Noah and the flood. So the work makes obvious allusions to Climate change. Estes states
“Floating hundreds of miles above Earth, astronauts have an unparalleled and beautiful view of the planet. But that view also lets them look down on the devastating effects of climate change, wildfires, war, pollution, and other troubling human-caused activity. Less than 550 humans have orbited the Earth. Those lucky enough to have done so more than once have not only heard about the negative impact that the industrial age has had on our planet, they’ve seen it with their own eyes. That’s why astronauts from around (and above) the world contributed to a 2015 video titled “Call to Earth,” which urged world leaders to take action ahead of the Paris Agreement.
Tom Estes’ work ‘Blitz’ introduces a new kind of artwork that functions more as art proposal for a partially realized exhibition; a document of visual and spatial modes of presentation that theorizes a different approach. The title of Tom Estes’ work ‘Blitz’ a term which is a shortened version of the German word “blitzkrieg” (blĭts’krēg’). Blitzkrieg means “A swift, sudden military offensive, usually by combined air and mobile land forces”.
Estes goes on to say:
“In my work Blitz, the slapstick comedy of the image is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock but with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer. There is an allusion to climate change, and the recalling of ‘war’ in the title. War seems to be one of the most effective means of convincing people to abandon their own selfish needs and mobilize in a unified effort. By way of this vicious technological cycle, we are consciously causing the sixth mass extinction of species while obsessing over every mean tweet and shocking statement. The really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. The stakes are higher than ever before. If we don’t all act now on Climate Change, things could spiral out of control.”
As part of NASA’s We The Explorers, Estes’ work ‘Blitz was put on a microchip and placed on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.
In Estes’ ‘Blitz’ even the medium itself, a projected digital photograph, suggests speed, as a recording of ‘live’ split second action’. For Estes’ the slapstick comedy of the image is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock. So the work could suggest rushing about with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer, while catastrophic destruction on a global scale looms ever closer.
Though a work of art with very contemporary concerns, the tone of imagery in Blitz seems to have more in common with the tradition of late nineteenth century photography or film. In 1892 the Lumier brothers had already began to create moving pictures. The work, therefore, seems to suggest that a movement away from the slow and contemplative in the visual arts is not just a modern phenomenon. By the 1910’s, films like those of the Keystone Cops were an established part of popular culture and so the representation of ‘speeded action’ was already on its way.
In political and social theory, accelerationism is the idea that either the prevailing system of capitalism, or certain techno-social processes that have historically characterized it, should be expanded, pre-purposed or accelerated in order to generate radical social change. Some contemporary accelerationist philosophy takes as its starting point the Deleuzo-Guattarian theory of deterritorialisation, aiming to identify, deepen, and radicalise the forces of deterritorialisation with a view to overcoming the countervailing tendencies that suppress the possibility of far-reaching social transformation. Accelerationism may also refer more broadly, and usually pejoratively, to support for the deepening of capitalism in the belief that this will hasten its self-destructive tendencies and ultimately eventuate its collapse.
Acceleration has been characterized as both reason and remedy for the challenges presented by an increasingly fraught global economy – by financial crises, ecological ruination, neo-colonial oppression and forced displacements of an unprecedented scale. The contemporary political and cultural imagination is caught between conflicting velocities: the accelerationist affirmation of technological transformation on the one hand, and decelerative or restorative movements on the other. The conference Speeding and Braking: Navigating Acceleration gathers critical responses to this conceptual deadlock that reach across and beyond such entrenched (op)positions.
Prominent theorists include right-accelerationist Nick Land. The Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (Ccru), an unofficial research unit at the University of Warwick from 1995–2003, of which Land was a member, is considered a key progenitor in both left- and right-accelerationist thought. Prominent contemporary left-accelerationists include Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, authors of the “Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”, and the Laboria Cuboniks collective, who authored the manifesto “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation”.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft launched Sept. 8, 2016, on the back of an Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on 8 September 2016.
Along accelerationist lines, Paul Mason, in works such as PostCapitalism: A Guide to our Future, has tried to speculate about futures after capitalism. He declares that “[a]s with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by post-capitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.” He considers that the rise of collaborative production will eventually help capitalism to kill itself.
A number of earlier philosopher have expressed apparently accelerationist attitudes, including Karl Marx in his 1848 speech “On the Question of Free Trade said:
“But, in general, the protective system of our day is conservative, while the free trade system is destructive. It breaks up old nationalities and pushes the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the extreme point. In a word, the free trade system hastens the social revolution. It is in this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, that I vote in favor of free trade.”
In a similar vein, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that “the leveling process of European man is the great process which should not be checked: one should even accelerate it…”, a statement often simplified, following Deleuze and Guattari, to a command to “accelerate the process”
So despite the apocalyptic imagery, Estes created the digital image ‘Blitz’ as documentation of the works physical formation- intentionally leaving the material project unrealized. This has a flattening effect which merely implies the existence of an installation in real-time, three-dimensional space. This closed circuit of illusion mimics and merges with the mass media desire for immediate novelty; anticipating the online reduction of an ‘installation’ to a single image. In this instance the documentation becomes a kind of ‘virtual installation’.
“In Blitz, the slapstick comedy of the image is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock but with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the work is actually liberated from worldly concerns. Quite the opposite. The dematerialization of Estes’ work expresses a concern with the material and phenomenological consequences of both accelerations and decelerations, as well as the aesthetic strategies afforded or precluded by them.
“We live in a time in which the art market dominates the artworld and so the primary concern of artists is the creation of luxury, decorative objects to sell. In contrast, Art in the 1960s and ’70s, translated politicization into an aesthetic practice of international vanguardism, contestation, criticality, counterhegemony, and postcolonial memorialization and assertion, within the framework of a politics of representation. But a generation ago, a post-modern cult now known as “identity politics” stopped many intelligent, liberal-minded people examining the bogus progressive movements and individuals they supported. Self absorption, a kind of “me-ism”, became the new zeitgeist in privileged western societies and signaled the demise of great collective movements. And Liberal ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview became increasingly expressed in individualist terms. And now we have found ourselves in a world lost to emotion, irrationality, and a weakening grasp on reality. Lies don’t faze us, and knowledge doesn’t impress us. Properly educated people always appreciate holistic approaches to any challenge. This means that they understand both cause and effect, and intertwined complexities. But the art world is a cautionary tale at this point. Art is an industry with a structural reality that must be acknowledged. There are no places where artists can be absolved of reinforcing oppressive structures. Hopefully more artists will challenge their complicity and finally break with their sense of exceptionalism.”
The work Blitz is therefore concerned with the material inscription, practical harnessing and social experience of varying speeds, from the perspective of contrasting temporalities. Particular emphasis is placed on a transversal approach, reading across, and drawing into dialogue, seemingly impossible positions within the fields of visual arts, cultural and critical theory, and media and communications.
The destruction of the old radical and militant movements—the communists, socialists and anarchists—have left liberals without a source of new ideas. The link between an effective liberal class and a more radical left was always essential to the health of the former. The liberal class, by allowing radical movements to be dismembered through Red baiting and by banishing those within its ranks who had moral autonomy, gradually deformed basic liberal tenets to support unfettered capitalism, the national security state, globalization and permanent war. The liberal class refuses to challenge, in a meaningful way, the decaying structures of democracy or the ascendancy of the corporate state. It proclaims its adherence to traditional liberal values while defending and promoting systems of power that mock these values.
For Estes the process of real subsumption is the key to our globalized network society. In 1848 the world of Karl Marx was not facing global ecological catastrophe. Nor are we still in the process of emerging from a rural, agricultural based feudal system. Everything without exception is subordinated to an economic logic, an economic rationality. Everything must be measured, and made commensurable, through the mediation of some sort of “universal equivalent”: money or information.
The stakes are higher than ever before. We are the authors of our own misfortunes. If we don’t all act now on Climate Change, things could spiral out of control.
Real subsumption is facilitated by—but also provides the impetus for—the revolution in computing and communication technologies over the course of the past several decades. Today we live in a digital world, a world of financial derivatives and big data. And now Virtual reality supplements and enhances physical, “face-to-face” reality—rather than being, as we used to naively think, opposed to it. Neo-liberalism is not just the ideology or belief system of this form of capitalism. It is also, more importantly, the concrete way in which the system works. It is an actual set of practices and institutions. It provides both a calculus for judging human actions, and a mechanism for inciting and directing those actions.
Image: Blitz by Tom Estes on display at Speeding and Breaking: Navigating Acceleration, Organised by Screen and Audiovisual Research Unit (SARU), Department of Media & Communications, Goldsmiths College, The University of London.
Capitalism is unrelenting in it’s pursuit of profit. What cannot be assimilated is marginalized or destroyed. But Estes’ emphasis is the conflict between the physical world – a world governed by laws beyond the reasoning of human culture- and our unrelenting desires. Or as Shakespeare put it “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy“. The title of the work Estes’ work ‘Blitz’ suggests a military offensive- and indeed we humans are at war with our own environment. Faced with the choice of either completely altering of our philosophical system or facing annihilation, humans will continue to risk annihilation. Why? Because whether it is the right choice or not, the process of acceleration is so deeply ingrained we no longer have a choice.
Blitz, by artist Tom Estes, as a large scale digital projection on the front of the magnificent neo-classical facade of The Weston Park Museum in Sheffield. The projection took place on June 16th 2016 for the opening night of the Yorkshire Festival. In Blitz, an individual is depicted being thrown through the air by a lightning bolt, superimposed on to a Victorian Bible open to the story of Noah and the flood. Estes states “The slapstick comedy of the image is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock but with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer”… “The stakes are higher than ever before. If we don’t all act now on Climate Change, things could spiral out of control.”
The Origins, Spectral Interpretation. Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) has the mission of studying asteroid 101955 Bennu.
Returning to the planet almost a year after its launch, the probe has already come within 10,711 miles (17,237 km) of Antarctica, before following a route north over the Pacific Ocean.
For more eye-opening news sure to pull you in, visit science.nasa.gov.