What every moment in A Space Program makes abundantly clear is the utter uselessness of human space travel.
Sending people to the moon was useless in the past, and sending people to Mars will be useless in the future. Space turns out not to be the place. We are here to stay; we are earthlings. Distant planets are and will be for robots like Opportunity.
But this fact, the uselessness of humanned missions, has left a huge hole in our popular imagination. We didn't know the American West was in fact the last frontier. There is nothing left for us to conquer. As for the moon, the nearest celestial body, anyone who attempts to colonize it will be driven to madness by its dust, which is everywhere and not like the dust on Earth but is like little evil bits of glass.
Tom Sachs, an American artist based in New York City and born near the middle of 1966, entered the world during the twilight of the Space Age. Not long after the "giant leap for mankind" was made on the moon (days before Sachs's third birthday), it all came to an end. In 1972, Apollo 17 reentered the biosphere, fell through the clouds, landed in the Pacific Ocean, and the astronauts stepped out of the capsule with faces that said: "There's really nothing up there for us humans. And not just nothing, but radically nothing. If we go to space, we will have to take the whole Earth with us."
A Space Program is a documentary about a performance that took place in a huge installation space, Manhattan's Park Avenue Armory, and had at its center a life-size model of the Apollo lunar module. The model is made of steel and plywood. These and other materials are vividly described by the narrator (for example, the layers of plywood are like "a delicious sandwich"). The ship is manned by two women, one of whom the narrator describes as beautiful. Not long after the launch, the women make out. This kind of space is sexy.
After landing on Mars, the beautiful astronaut exits the module and takes a giant leap for womankind. But she and her partner have a mission: find life on Mars. They begin looking here and there. They leave black footprints on the red soil. They start to go a little nuts. As you can see, all of this is totally ridiculous. And this is where the movie provides a truth: Space is sensible for lifeless things but absurd for living ones. NASA's human trips to the moon were, in substance, as silly as Sachs's homemade trip to Mars. We need to forget about the stars and focus on this planet, which, sadly, is in the process recalibrating its climate.
This brings me to the rather austere documentary Beyond Metabolism, which is part of the ByDesign festival. Metabolism is the last great architectural movement that the world experienced. It happened in the 1960s in Japan. Its basic idea was to design buildings that were massive but also organic and mobile. The city was a living thing for these bold thinkers. One of the most famous works from this school is the Kyoto International Conference Center. It was designed by Sachio Otani, a student of the leading figure of the movement, Kenzo Tange.
The mega-building was completed in 1966. Stefanie Gaus and Volker Sattel's film explores the geometric spaces, the silent furniture, and often imposing concrete of this wonderfully strange place, which in 1997 held a major global conference on climate change. The documentary includes footage from this event. We see then-vice president of the United States Al Gore. We hear speeches from a number of dignitaries. We learn about the tensions, the difficulties, the obstacles that the leaders of the world faced to reach an agreement. In the end, a treaty was signed. It is called the Kyoto Protocol. But the treaty was too little and too late. The world today is much worse than it was in 1997.
The death of the Space Age in 1972 stranded us on a planet that's becoming more and more hostile to the humans.