Christina de Middels ‘Astronauts’ photographic series is both amusing and a reminder that we are imprisoned by the image, by what we are sold as reality, that every image is a reflection of the truth. This story, which has its origin in Zambia in the 1960’s, is a salutary tale and brings to mind the words of Bob Dylan, ‘Don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear’.
The story goes like this; In 1964, shortly after independence, a Zambian school teacher, Edward Makuka Nkoloso, came up with the mad idea to develop a space program for his country. It was known as the National Academy of Science, Space Research and Philosophy and he was it’s sole ’employee’. Naturally the Government took no heed of him and after the United Nations turned down Nkoloso’s funding request for $7 million the project collapsed. No surprise really when you consider his training regime consisted of:
I’m getting them acclimatised to space-travel by placing them in my space-capsule every day. It’s a 40-gallon oil drum in which they sit, and I then roll them down a hill.
He also required recruits to get onto rope-swings which, when at the highest point of their arc, he cut in an attempt to replicate temporary weightlessness as the poor spacemen were thrown out of the swing. Mad, mad, mad.
In this series de Middel has recreated her version of the truth, a fictional documentation of Nkoloso’s efforts to send a Zambian to the moon. The result is a beautiful and striking series that has everything from elephant hugging astronauts to patterned space junk, weightless cats to an engineer day dreaming at a rusted control panel. Here’s what she said about it:
My intention is to drive the audience into reflection on what they consume as real, in the beginning most people believed everything [in the photos] was real. People asked if I had been in Zambia in the ’60s. They trusted the image but not me, which is quite funny.
The actual location for these pictures is not Africa rather de Middel took them in in her hometown of Alicante, her afronauts local, the spacesuits and sets all designed by her:
I made storyboards, researched locations, designed the spacesuits. Then, when I was shooting the model in a space helmet like a giant bubble, I suddenly saw how dreamy it looked and I just went with that. The shot defined the aesthetic for the rest of the images.
You can see this wonderful show from the 13th July – 2nd August at The Copper house Gallery, St Kevin’s Cottages, Synge Street, Dublin