ASPEN, Colo. — While many spectators watched in awe during this summer's SpaceX and Blue Origin rocket launches, possibly fantasizing of when their time for space travel may come, local artist Ajax Axe fantasized of a different reality, one where billionaires harnessed their financial power to heal Earth instead of escaping it.
Located on the backside of Aspen Mountain lies Aspen Space Station, an immersive art exhibit that questions how space travel relates to the human race’s response to climate change. Built within Aspen’s dense forest, the exhibit brings into focus the space fantasy narrative – the idea that leaving this planet, instead of addressing its primary challenges like climate change, is not humanity's path forward.
Inside the Aspen Space Station
Mission Commander and local artist Ajax Axe are fighting the space fantasy narrative.
“The issue with the space fantasy narrative is it’s completely co-opted all of our thinking about the future,” said Axe, the Mission Commander for Aspen Space Station and the mind behind the project. “So, we have this fantasy that were going to go live on Mars like the Jetsons, and I don’t think that’s the reality. I think we need to be investing in new fantasies right here in our own communities.”
The idea for the space station came to Axe while in Lamu, Kenya, where the artist has lived off-and-on for the last 11 years. While working with the community and organizing activists and artists together, she initiated the concept for the Lamu Space Station. In this iteration, astronauts have escaped the collapsing climate, arriving in Lamu where people live in handmade beehive pods, travel on donkeys, and wear outfits that resemble space suits.
Like many events over the past year, including actual rocket launches, takeoff of the Lamu Space Station was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Axe, who is an Aspen local, sought to bring the movement back home where she could more directly reach the attention of residents who work may in the space industry.
By organizing communities across the globe, Axe hopes to start conversations about how to make life sustainable here on Earth.
“This project is not anti-space exploration; it's pro-Earth appreciation,” said Axe. “What I'm asking these guys to do is to come back to earth, look around them at everything we have here and appreciate this, instead of using tremendous amounts of resources, money, time, energy, and carbon emissions, to blast other wealthy people into space so they can say they’ve been to space.”
Upon entering the exhibit, guests are greeted by two massive sculptures. Named the Space Towers and made from elk antlers and jute ghillie, these sculptures closely resemble concepts for future spaceships. Each of the nine instillations are unique in discipline and immersive in their own way and are made to invoke an appreciation of the earthly world surrounding it.
Red signs throughout the exhibition offer clarity of Axe’s message. Phrases like “Send the billionaires to space, just leave us your bank account numbers,” aim to capture the attention of ultra-wealthy people who find sanctuary in Aspen. Axe has already hosted Elon Musk and his SpaceX associates through an hour-long tour of the property.
The nine unique instillations found in the exhibition are made by local artists Chris Erickson, Lara Whitley, WALLY and Axe. Spaces like Erickson’s superULTRAmega, invite guests to celebrate life and existence in nature’s acoustic beauty.
“One aspect of it is just what we experience day-to-day,” Erickson described. “Being in vehicles, traveling on buses, trains, planes: it’s literally a constant barrage of everything into our senses.”
Other pieces instill more questionable feelings, like Axe’s "Space Folly." Tucked inside what she describes as the “temple to the endgame of space travel” lies a dirt battleground where toy soldiers and astronauts fight over the last living plant. Illustrations like this are what Axe envisions the future to look like without a greater appreciation for sustaining life on Earth.
The exhibit will continue through September 19 with various free and experiential events for the local community. Through taking a pledge to stay on earth, guests can officially join the Earth Force Climate Command. Axe plans to expand the project world-wide in places like Greece, Lebanon, Kenya and Colombia to create a bigger network of artists and activists through Earth Force Climate Command.