Written by Denise Ackerl, PhD Student at CCW
In July 2019, for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, NASA announced their ambition to send a woman to the moon by 2024. Less than a year before in September 2018, on the very last day of the NIDA Doctoral Summer School, I was looking with my colleague Laima Kreivyte (artist-curator) from Vilnius Art Academy, into the dark but clear night sky above the Baltic Sea on a 50km long sandy beach, and 4km away from the Russian border of Kaliningrad.
Our gaze hit the moon and we started wondering if there ever had been a woman on the moon. As soon as we uttered this question, we knew that this was the title of a joint project (without knowing the answer to our question) – an exhibition that interrogates the relationship between feminist art practice and notions of the impossible such as space travel. Laima and I had only known each other for 5 days at this point of deciding to co-organise an exhibition. But the intensity of the Summer School and the strong link between our research that we discovered during the Summer School, made us confident that this impulse will have a fruitful outcome and exactly a year later, it did.
On 6th September 2019, we launched the exhibition “Women on the moon” at the Klaipeda Cultural Communication Centre (KCCC) which found great response, within and beyond this coastal Lithuanian city. In doing this exhibition, our aim was to bring different feminist positions that interrogate the current role of women in society (and space) and play with ideas of yet utopian forms of living, together, as well as asking the question if “putting a woman” on the moon is really the eventual evidence of gender equality? How about Mars? The Nida Doctoral Summer School in 2018, the basis of our endeavour, focused on the question of how to present practice-based research. The discussions of each participants practice during that week, provided us with a significant pool of artist-researchers who we wanted to work with.
“Women on the moon”, next to a ton of emails and funding bids, involved a lot of travel; of artists and artworks, across time, space and countries. In this truly trans-European exhibition (artists were from Lithuania, Austria, Ireland, Finland and UK) works ranged from 1969, the year of the moon landing, with Lithuanian painter Marija Teresė Rožanskaitė’s Scientists |||, to works that imagined space colonisation and its potential set-up in the near future. In their work LTU-19, a space station set-up in the gallery space of the KCCC with material solely sourced from the gallery, collaborating artists Eleanor Duffin and Jo Lathwood invited visitors to engage in the conversation about future space colonisation while sewing their own space logo onto the visitors clothes. Other artists’ work such as Hanna Timonen’s Plane collection, a series of photographs that she took while spending time with her children on the playground since 2013, or Dilete Deike’s Lunar Diaphragm, which presents a one-to-one size replica of the ISS entrance, were strongly tied to the ‘now’. Valerie Tiefenbacher’s Elon Musk needs a waxing from 2018, a drawing made from her own body hair depicting Musk’s plan for a space station, shined the light on the masculine side of the space travel narrative while subverting it with the left overs of her daily hygiene. On the opening night itself, where we handed out Mars-bars as part of our space catering, my colleague Laima and I continued our double act of curating. In a lecture performance we were telling the story of women and space travel – two different story lines when comparing the American and Russian space programs, told in two different languages; English and Lithuanian. Up until today I am not 100% sure we told exactly the same story as the Lithuanian translation often exceeded the English timewise. This parallel of languages and stories was eventually the leading thread of the exhibition as further exemplified in the poem Kalė kosmose which translates as “Bitch in outer space” by Laima, telling the story of the first female in space, the dog Laika.
Without possibilities such as the Nida Doctoral Summer School and the support of UAL, the KCCC, Vilnius Art Academy and other generous funding bodies from other countries who enabled artists and artworks to travel, “Women on the moon” would not have happened and I would not have had the possibility to be an artist, curator, logistics organiser and artonaut at the same time. Based on this experience and the hope to carry on the journey, I feel asking for the impossible is the least we can do to reach gender equality, inclusion and diversity.