Untitled #12 (Dance). From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 125x60x5cm
Lunar regolith simulant, vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film, brass, steel

 

Peak of Eternal Light (artefacts)
Peak of Eternal Light: specific points on the polar regions of the Moon bathed in continuous sunlight.

‘Peak of Eternal Light’ takes us on a hypothetical archaeological journey to the Moon. The project features a monumental temple on the South Pole of the Moon and a series of sacred objects and sculptures, establishing an enigmatic material culture yet to be discovered. Masks, offering vessels and other forms of precious regalia invite us to imagine profound lunar rituals, acknowledging the ancestral spiritual dimension embedded within the cosmos.

When appointed Artist in Residence at the Advanced Concepts Team of the European Space Agency ESA, Jorge Mañes Rubio chose to explore an anthropological approach when addressing the future human presence on the Moon. Instead of seeing it just as a potential site for groundbreaking scientific research, class-privileged tourism or the lucrative exploitation of extraterrestrial natural resources, Mañes Rubio looks at the Moon as sacred ground. Transporting us to this numinous, nearly unspoiled territory, the artist recalls the images and symbols humanity needs to reconnect with a higher purpose.

In ‘Peak of Eternal Light’ we’re lifted to a ‘new world’ where ancient ways-of-knowing are reimagined, remaining forever indispensable. His mission does not begin by planting a flag or building a permanent colony on the Moon —both symbols of Western colonialism— but by honouring and protecting the ancestral connection we share with our closest celestial neighbour. Challenging the exploitative and colonial patterns taken for granted in space exploration, the artist reflects on how Western knowledge is always perceived as superior over other forms of knowledge, how triumphal and dominant cultures have historically neglected the history of others. In his vision, rockets and spaceships are replaced by sacred buildings, complex rituals and magnificent artefacts carefully crafted with Moon dust and aerospace materials left behind on the surface of the Moon. Openly inspired by our past, these works attempt to recognize the infinity of traditions and wisdom available on Earth, projecting a pluriverse where cultural exchange happens in a relationship of equality.

Mañes Rubio seems to have used his privileged position inside the European Space Agency to purposely displace himself from current plans around the colonisation of celestial bodies —plans driven today by the world’s wealthiest, most powerful corporations. Looking at Mañes Rubio’s work is disconcerting to say the least. While we’re invited to discover evidence that sustain a prosperous human presence on the Moon, these buildings and objects appear to us as relics from a bygone past, implying the inescapable collapse of their source community. Hence the more sustainable, spiritual —perhaps even utopian— narrative the artist has envisioned for our interplanetary future remains in a liminal estate, full of hope and helpless at the same time. It’s precisely in this contradiction that his work becomes most valuable, confident, even implacable, tirelessly looking for the traces that make us human regardless of space and time.

“While visionary concepts such as the Moon Village help us to rethink potential futures and our actions to realise them, art allows us to put them into perspective, and recall their human elements. Jorge has made a beautiful bridge between ethnography and space exploration, by imagining future empirical evidence from a ‘Moon Village culture’.”
Leopold Summerer, head of the Advanced Concepts Team, European Space Agency

“I have no idea if the Moon Temple is utopian or not – not more than if it was utopian, centuries ago to make the Egyptian pyramids, the European Cathedrals, the temples all around the planet or to decide that some mountains and caves were sacred places. Somehow, human spirituality needs large symbols.”
Laurent Pambaguian, Structures, Mechanisms and Materials Division at the European Space Agency

 

Untitled #1 (Vessel)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 20x18x17cm
Mylar, lunar regolith simulant

After decades of isolation, the inhabitants of the Moon Village start developing a certain sense of common identity. They start making intricate objects with a special agency, objects whose function transcends physical interaction. They used local resources such as moon dust and the iconic golden aerospace materials to create magnificent pieces. With an erratic shape that resembles the lunar surface itself and a precious interior, we can only imagine the purpose of this mysterious lunar artefact. Who knows, this vase might tell us a story of the supernatural, a tale of immortality.

Untitled #3 (Protection)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 95x36x7cm
Vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film, lunar regolith simulant

This neckpiece, carefully crafted from compressed Moon dust and aerospace materials, is believed to be one of the first objects created by lunar settlers. Due to its large size and weight, it was probably aimed to be worn only during very specific occasions. While its function remains unclear, the piece was definitely created to fulfil sacred and spiritual needs. The object was passed on through different generations of Moon Village inhabitants, and it was believed that it could help restore cosmic balance or provide protection to whoever wore it.

Untitled #6 (Afterlife)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 22x20x5cm
Mylar, lunar regolith simulant

Masks have played an important role in many ancient civilisations from planet Earth. They were worn by shamans, rulers, dancers or important personalities, in many cases even accompanying them to the grave. Most were worn for important celebrations, burial rituals and transformation rites, where the mask would confer mystical powers or serve as a gateway to a parallel dimension. Burial masks were commonly used among Moon Village inhabitants to honour the deceased and secure the departing spirits with a safe passage to the afterlife. Masks were carefully crafted in moon dust featuring the faces of the deceased and covered with golden aerospace materials to protect them on their next journey.

Untitled #8 (Courage)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 16x19x5cm
Mylar, brass, lunar regolith simulant

This female mask reveals some of the most intricate decorative arts that flourished during the first civilisations on the Moon. The absence of gold deposits on the lunar surface turned into another great opportunity for the Moon Village inhabitants to show their immense creativity. Aerospace materials coming from abandoned cargo landers are reused by lunar goldsmiths to create new pieces. Some of these precious artefacts —such as the nose and ear ornaments in this example— certainly reminisce of pre-Columbian cultures, speaking of a sacred human fascination for gold. This particular mask was created to honour the courage of a woman who located cold traps inside the perpetual darkness of the lunar craters. Water ice collected inside these traps can be transformed into drinking water, oxygen and rocket fuel, turning it into the most valuable lunar resource. Only a few humans on the Moon developed a certain intuition that help them locating cold traps in situations where scientific instrumentation is of little use. This mask and its ornaments —symbolically featuring water drops— celebrate this woman’s generosity, depicting her with her eyes closed and mouth open in an expression of ecstasy.

Untitled #12 (Dance)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 125x60x5cm
Lunar regolith simulant, vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film, brass, steel 

Ceremonial regalia was worn or carried during rituals and other performances to establish a deeper connection with higher spiritual powers that are still active on the Moon. This large sculpture is in fact a dance wand to be used only during celebratory sacred dances. Its substantial weight would render it useless under terrestrial gravitational conditions, but on the Moon men and women used these precious artifacts to influence the wholeness of the community, strengthen their belief systems or perform healing and divination ceremonies. This particular piece features 13 solar feathers and the figure of a space ancestor adorned with embedded brass bolts.

Untitled #9 (Loyalty)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 113x54x10cm
Vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film, lunar regolith simulant, brass

This massive pectoral appears to be an armour used in combat but is in fact a symbol of power and distinction reserved only for a capable lunar shaman. It reveals some of the anthropological complexities from the first civilisation on the Moon. In a world dominated by extremely harsh life conditions, humans turned to the vastness of the universe and their own spiritual realm as a mechanism to transcend the absence of life on the Moon. In an existence dominated by rigorous technological dependence and artificial nature, a new coming of shamanic practices fostered a greater connection to the cosmos and a deeper appreciation of the essential human dimension. Lunar inhabitants considerably expanded their knowledge of the universe, but at the same time acquired a greater understanding of the ethical challenges inherent in the conquest of celestial bodies. Only a handful of individuals that showed an ability to serve as a bridge between humans and the cosmic gods were endorsed with the responsibility of conducting important rituals at the Moon Temple and delivering valuable oracles. Their loyalty to the wellbeing of the community and their spiritual vocation was unquestionable.

Untitled #7 (Trade)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 16x32x3cm
Vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film, lunar regolith simulant

Dependence from planet Earth —except energy easily harvested from the sun— was a norm during the first decades of existence of the lunar settlement. Moon Village inhabitants worked hard to achieve certain self-sufficiency in terms of food, oxygen and water supplies, but they still relied on cargo being dropped every week from the terrestrial landers. The lack of material goods on the Moon didn’t stop locals to start trading. Instead it created a completely new submerged lunar economy where goods were replaced by human skills. Lunar citizens would offer their talents, ranging from a particular technical knowledge to storytelling, dancing, or spiritual healing in exchange for a similar future return. Commerce was based on trust, and these mysterious objects were exchanged as a symbolic currency to represent this trust between families and clans. 

Untitled #2 Yellow Gold (Reflection) & Untitled #2 Copper Gold (Reflection)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 120x90cm
Vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film on canvas

Several layers of aerospace film are stretched and placed over what appears to be an irregular surface or canvas. The result is a bursting and glowing surface, reminiscing of a powerful solar eruption. This phenomenon, usually accompanied by coronal mass ejections, occasionally results on spectacular auroras on planet Earth. On the Moon though, devoid of atmosphere and magnetic field to deflect radiation, these storms might not be fatal but have certainly been feared since the first human settlements. We can assume that this piece served as a visual reminder to the Moon Village inhabitants of these beautiful yet devastating solar events.

Untitled #10 (Memory)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 165x200cm
Wool & Acrylic blend

This large blanket was found on the Moon, although it was most probably woven on Earth by the family of an early human lunar settler. During the early stages of the Moon Village program, astronauts were sent to the south pole of the Moon for long periods of time. The adaptation to microgravity and the harsh lunar conditions were always a struggle for the first inhabitants, prone to feeling homesick and lonely a few months after their arrival. Contact with other fellow astronauts was sometimes rare since many of them were sent together with their robotic partners on a mission to map the nearby dark craters in search for vital water ice. Families of the astronauts probably started weaving these blankets before a relative would depart, hoping that they would warm and comfort the astronauts on their journey. Their colourful design incorporated both elements from their life back on Earth and their future assignment on the Moon. This particular piece depicts an astronaut’s favourite musical instrument, a golden crown from Indonesian origins and the United Nations emblem among some other symbols.

Untitled #4 (Solitude)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 120x46x10cm
Vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film and lunar regolith simulant

Shaped in what seems to be a shield with strong ethnographic influences, this object is used in complex dances and rituals among the Moon Village inhabitants. Living in a tough environment where human contact is scarce, solitude is the most common enemy among the lunar citizens. Therefore this and other similar objects are used in celebrations, where people can acquire a majestic presence, gathering, dancing, and breaking free from their monotonous and harsh daily activities.

Untitled #5 (Play)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 16x12x5cm
Vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film 

 

Untitled #11 (Mediators)
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. 160x237cm, 160x250cm
Mylar 

These pieces are heavily inspired by the teachings of Korean shamans; folding and cutting pieces frequently used during sacred rituals. Described by a shaman as ‘chairs for the gods’, these are mediators between humans and higher spiritual powers that are still active in our world.

 

The Message, video still

The Message, video still

The Message, video still

 

The Message at Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The Message
From the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. Dimensions variable, 26min
Digital film

In ‘The Message’ the artist presents original 16mm footage from NASA’s Apollo Moon missions in a new light. In 1969 the first man set foot on the Moon, in what was arguably the most important human achievement of the XXth Century. 50 years later, the event is regarded by many —not without a dose of nostalgia— ­­­as the climax of a bygone golden space exploration era, but also as a hoax by a few conspiracists. In his video installation, Rubio deliberately edits the film as a one way trip, implying a point of no return in the future colonisation of celestial bodies. He also edits out any visible trace of astronauts, putting the spectator on the pilot’s seat of humanity’s greatest journey.

 

Installation view at Barakat Contemporary

Installation view at Barakat Contemporary

Installation view at Barakat Contemporary

Installation view at Barakat Contemporary

Installation view at Barakat Contemporary

Installation view at Barakat Contemporary

Installation view at Barakat Contemporary

 

Peak of Eternal Light has been created by Jorge Mañes Rubio as artist in residence at the Advanced Concepts Team of the European Space Agency ESA