Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

Art in Space! Too Bad it’s Not Very Good

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Let’s talk about the Humanity Star. For those of you who haven’t heard about it, it’s a small satellite that’s been launched into space by New Zealand company Rocket Lab, led by CEO Peter Beck. This satellite is different, though. It’s art.

The stated goal seems to be something noble or noble-ish. From the website:

The Humanity Star is designed to be a bright symbol and reminder to all on Earth about our fragile place in the universe. …

Okay, first of all, how how will a man-made pseudo-star help us feel smaller – might it rather make us feel like we can conquer anything with science and technology?

Seldom do we as a species stop, look to the stars and realize our position in the universe as an achingly tiny speck of dust in the grandness of it all.

Wait, didn’t a lot of us do that during the eclipse? And anyway don’t we already do that whenever we look at the stars?

Humanity is finite, and we won’t be here forever. Yet in the face of this almost inconceivable insignificance, humanity is capable of great and kind things when we recognize we are one species, responsible for the care of each other, and our planet, together. The Humanity Star is to remind us of this.

Tell me again, how is this thing supposed to remind me of human kindness? I get how it will remind me of human achievement and maybe greatness, but that achievement isn’t the result of Beck’s aim to do good for the planet (for the good of which this satellite, to be clear, does nothing) or even Beck’s recognition of our essential humanity. In fact, many New Zealanders seem to think it’s good mainly because it puts New Zealand on the “space map”.

On the other hand, as you can see above, some people really dislike the, um, hexacontatetrahedron.

They accuse it of being pernicious space debris. (Which it’s really not.) They worry it’ll collide with other low orbit objects and create a cascading mess. (That’s very unlikely.) They accuse it of being an eyesore or “space graffiti,” as one astronomer quipped on Twitter.

In the subsequent Twitter thread, it emerges that he actually seems to think it’s more like a publicity stunt or advertising. Another Twitter accuses him of not understanding graffiti which, incidentally, seems right on. Graffiti is about reclaiming or critically commenting on socially stratified, public spaces. And even if graffiti was just vandalism for vandalism’s sake, this wouldn’t be graffiti because it’s not vandalizing anything. Tons of the satellites currently in orbit are launched by private companies, and of those, at least this one looks pretty.

Finally, there are people who say that the Humanity Star a neat, fun thing that we should all just chill out about.

Well, I guess I agree with the chilling out part, but I don’t even think it’s that neat.

One Comment

  1. I love how you point out the contradiction that the launch of human made pseudo star is a humbling act. A problem with conceptual art is that the meaning of a work is dependent by the Artist. Ono´s Interpretation of her White Chess Set is – similarly like this satellite – completely off. Humanity Star means whatever Peter Beck decides. 

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