ESA and art
23 June 2017
The night sky and dreams of travel into space inspired artists long before the space age, but space agencies have also taken care to nurture artistic endeavour on Earth and beyond.
As early as 1965, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov sketched in space, while other astronauts have since become accomplished artists themselves. Scientific observations from space have become popular art, while spacecraft and radio transmissions have carried art from the ground out into the cosmos.
Artists have been sponsored to witness space history since the early 1960s. Inspired by seeing a portrait of Alan Shepard, NASA administrator James Webb commissioned the NASA Art Program in 1962, initiating involvement with artists and believing that not only they would capture history, but also that they would contribute significantly to American art.
It is sometimes easy to forget, while caught up in the daily duties of science and engineering, that ESA’s work in space also tackles questions that spark curiosity at a deeper and fundamentally human level. These questions concern the very essence of our existence on this planet – not merely as individuals but as part of a cosmic tale that started aeons before us and that will continue long after we are gone.
At ESA, since our very earliest space missions, we have run dozens of art competitions, in particular as a way to involve children and students in our outreach activities. In recent years, we’ve interacted with a number of professional artists who are inspired by our space missions, by their results, and by the vision that brought them about.
These artists want to learn more: they want to delve into the scientific and technological processes that enable our spirit of enquiry, that allow us to leave Earth’s gravitational pull and research the Universe from space.
Engaging with these artists, we invite them to visit, observe our work and even to participate in parabolic flights. We have worked with the French urban artist, ‘Invader’, who applied his special brand of space mosaics at different ESA facilities.
We operate artist-in-residence programmes, where artists work at ESA sites alongside their technical and scientific counterparts, in innovative areas such as interactive art, sound art, animation, film and visual effects, hybrid art or performance and choreography.
We are interested in absorbing artists’ perspectives on our scientific explorations and we are intrigued by how your curiosity is triggered, as we continue to learn from each other.