Spectacular Journey into Space
Mori Art Museum Presents “The Universe and Art”

From Tokyo to the infinite expanse of space: The current show at Mori Art Museum revolves around a major issue: the universe and the future of humanity. The realm outside of planet Earth is a place of longing, a projection screen, and an object of research. Where do we come from? Where are we going? And are we really alone in the universe? These existential questions have not only been investigated by scientists, philosophers, and science-fiction authors, but also by many artists. The spectrum of exhibits ranges from meteorites, to manuscripts of da Vinci and Galileo, to sophisticated high-tech installations. Numerous artists from the Deutsche Bank Collection are on view, including Andreas Gursky, Wolfgang Tillmans, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Mariko Mori.

The show is divided into four sections. The first part focuses on different representations of the universe and research on the universe. Religious artifacts enter into dialogue with scientific devices and contemporary art. Various mandalas – abstract ornamental depictions of the universe that were also used as meditation objects – are on display next to a video by Maeda Yukinori or a minimalist sculpture by Kisho Mwkaiyama. These are contemplative, spiritually charged works in which we can immerse ourselves like a mandala. The material used for the sword that once belonged to the Japanese emperor Taisho, however, comes from the depths of the real universe. The iron for this artfully forged weapon was provided by a meteorite. Incredibly, the shiny silver metal is four billion years old.

The second section is devoted exclusively to contemporary art. Andreas Gursky’s large-format photographic work Kamiokande (2007) demonstrates that scientific research facilities have their own aesthetic fascination. In the water-filled mine of a former colliery, a neutrino observatory was installed in which thousands of “photo eyes” capture the movement of these elementary particles. They are the building blocks of our world and the entire universe.

Neutrinos are created, among other things, by nuclear reactions on the sun. The installation Brilliant Noise gives an inkling of the colossal energy that this celestial body produces each second. On three gigantic screens, the British artist duo Semiconductor created fade-overs of thousands of satellite images of solar storms. The flickering light of these thermonuclear processes are transferred to electronic sounds – it’s almost as though Brilliant Noise enables us to sense the pulse beat of the sun. Trevor Paglen documents that the cosmos has also been a political realm since the space race between the Americans and the Russians, at the latest. The photographs of the American geographer, artist, and activist show espionage satellites that observe the world so well they can even recognize faces. 

The third section is dedicated to whether there is life outside Earth and what the future will be like for the human species. Patricia Piccinini’s hyperrealistic silicon sculpture The Rookie alludes to the latest developments in genetic engineering, such as CRISPR. Concealed behind this cryptic abbreviation is a method that can be used to “edit” the DNA of almost any organism quickly and easily. In China, “mini pigs” are already on the market, which, thanks to this genetic technology, are extremely small and cute. Piccinini’s Rookie, a hybrid of a baby, caterpillar, and turtle that looks out at the world helplessly, takes this development further – with a disturbing outcome. The shiny chrome female robot created by Hajime Sorayama stems from pop culture. The illustrator’s picture book Sexy Robot made him world famous in 1982, and today there are even three-dimensional versions of his erotic male fantasy.

The last chapter of the show asks whether the future of humankind might be in space. This is suggested not only by historical exhibits such as the photo of Neil Armstrong’s footprint on the surface of the moon and the sketches of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, whose theoretical research laid the foundations for Soviet and Western space travel. Contemporary exhibits are also shown. The design of a building made of ice that could house future residents of Mars, which received an award from NASA, is particularly fascinating.

These technological projects are repeatedly contrasted with artistic visions. For example, in his paintings Jules de Balincourt has astronauts and planets float in black infinite space. The Tokyo collective teamLab, founded in 2001, represents the latest developments in digital art. “Light years ahead of the rest” is how Japan Times characterizes the works by the group, consisting of more than 400 artists, programmers, mathematicians, architects, and engineers. At Mori Art Museum, their installation Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Blossoming on Collision — Light in Space, inspired by age-old Japanese myths, draws visitors into an interactive universe of light, colors, and movement. This cycle of growth and decay is completed with each visitor who enters the room, each time in a different way. Light in Space is akin to a gateway to a psychedelic cosmos – a perfect conclusion to an exhibition project that bridges the gap between art, technology, and spirituality.

The Universe and Art

Until 1/9/2017
Mori Art Museum, Tokyo