Art Work Samples for 2019 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship

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 focuses on traces of ancient cultures reimagined by modern society with the Moon as an alternative future landmark. In this attempt to imagine a new human civilisation on a lunar settlement, the artist fulfils the universal desire of venturing beyond Earth into the endless expanse of space. The project may also be seen as an interplanetary archaeological journey: retracing the indigenous ways of knowing and inquiring into the origins of human existence, while looking ahead to the future within the perpetuity of time and space. This new series of artworks features materials that are solely used for manufacturing satellites, spaceships and other aerospace purposes, such as the iconic golden vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film and moon dust (lunar regolith simulant) that the European Space Agency is currently using to prepare astronauts for future lunar missions. These are objects that answer specific sacred and spiritual rituals to be held on the Moon someday. These new artworks merge influences from indigenous cultures together with futuristic aesthetics, reimagining our legacy as human species in a potential interplanetary future. 

“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 small space ancestor adorned with embedded brass bolts.”


Untitled #1 (Vessel), from the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. 20x18x17cm
Vapour deposited aluminium aerospace film, 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.”


The Moon Temple, from the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2017. Digital pigment print, 150x100cm, edition of 6 + 2AP. 
Aerial view of the Moon Temple and its location on the rim of the Shackleton Crater.

Our fascination with the Moon dates back to the most ancient and primitive civilisations. A key element in mythologies of every culture, the connection with our closest celestial neighbour has always been a fascinating and mysterious one. Oddly enough, when appointed Artist in Residence at the European Space Agency, Jorge Mañes Rubio decided to explore a more anthropological and even spiritual approach when addressing a potential future human presence of the Moon as part of his project ‘Peak of Eternal Light’. Instead of seeing it as just a potential site for groundbreaking scientific discovery, sci-fi tourism or the lucrative exploitation of extraterrestrial natural resources, Rubio chose to look at the Moon as a universal and mythical idea. The Moon, unlike Earth, has no boundaries, no divisions, no nations. Do we have a right to change that? And so he decided the best way to symbolise this dilemma was to build a temple on the Moon. A temple to celebrate the Moon as a powerful symbol of unity for mankind. Using universal languages such as science, art and architecture, the Moon Temple encourages us to look at the future of space exploration with a more human, peaceful and embracing perspective.


The Message, from the Peak of Eternal Light series, 2018. Dimensions variable, 26min. Digital film.
Exhibition view at Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

In ‘The Message’ the artist presents original footage from NASA’s Apollo Moon missions in a new light. The work addresses the role of mankind in the colonisation of celestial bodies while at the same time advocates for a deeper and more spiritual connection with the cosmos. In 1969 the first man set foot on the Moon, in what was arguably the most important human achievement of the XXth Century. Today, almost 50 years later, the event is still 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 pairs this impressive footage with entrancingNative American rhythms and songs. This odd combination gives the installation a sacred dimension, where the scientific and the spiritual are blended together. The ethereal footage pulls us into the unknown while the music and the chanting elevate the mystical dimension of it. Rubio also deliberately decides to edit out any visible trace of astronauts, putting the spectator on the pilot’s seat of humanity’s greatest journey.

Footage courtesy of the US Defense Visual Information Distribution Center.
Recordings provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.


Manshin Min Hye-Gyeong, from the On Distant Objects and Hungry Gods, 2017. Digital pigment print, 50x50cm, edition of 3 + 2AP. 

From social outcasts on the verge of extinction to living human treasures in a matter of just a few decades, Korean female shamans (manshin) and their rituals represent the nation’s most authentic and indigenous form of faith. Medium, magician, healer, fortune-teller, priestess, dancer, musician and spiritual intermediary, manshin today are capable of reaching a supernatural dimension out of which life comes and goes. While in residence at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), artist Jorge Mañes Rubio worked for months with several scholars and female shamans in Seoul, attending many rituals, some of them extremely private and meaningful. Shamans kindly shared their stories with him, stories of struggle and empowerment for these women who still today need to overcome many obstacles and prejudices. Tracing a decisive parallelism between Korean shamanism and his mystical and ethnographical approach to contemporary art, Jorge Mañes Rubio celebrates the revelatory and ecstatic potential of manshin, encouraging a deeper spiritual connection with the world.


Dangun, the Legendary Founder of Korea, from the On Distant Objects and Hungry Gods, 2017. 180x135cm. 
Embroidery and appliqué on cotton. 

Dangun was the legendary founder of Gojoseon in 2333 BC. This is considered the first ever Korean kingdom, located in what now is Manchuria and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. His is the first story in the Samguk-Yusa (Tales of the Three Kingdoms) compiled in 1280. The story tells how Hwanung, the son of Hwanin, the supreme deity, asked his father if he might be allowed to descend to Earth and live there instead of heaven. Hwanin consented and, giving Hwanung three seals of authority, selected Mt. Taebeck (near North Korea’s Pyongyang) as the best place for his son to arrive and settle together with 3000 followers. One day both a bear and a tiger came to Hwanung’s residence in prayer and asked to be transformed into humans. The god agreed to this gift but on the condition that they remain in a cave, out of the sun for 100 days and eat only a sacred bunch of mugworts and 20 garlic cloves. The tiger shortly gave up in impatient hunger and left the cave. but the bear – a female called Ungnyo – after only 21 days was transformed into a woman. She longed for a child and so, shortly after the god married her, Dangun was born. The figure of the bear in the myth probably references the shamanistic beliefs of the nomadic tribes who migrated from the Asian interior in this period and settled in the Korean peninsula, bringing shamanism with them. Dangun may be considered the first Great Shaman who provided a link between the spirit and animal world with humanity. Today, many shamans across Korea still worship Dangun, who represents a symbol of hope for Korean reunification—his celebration day is the only public holiday observed jointly in both Koreas. 


Design Museum Dharavi’s opening in Mumbai, India. 

In February 2016 Design Museum Dharavi (an initiative founded by Jorge Mañes Rubio and Amanda Pinatih) opened its doors in a 3sq km home-grown neighbourhood located in the heart of Mumbai. Around 1 million people live in Dharavi, and despite the tough conditions of their surroundings, they are capable of creating, designing, manufacturing and commercialising all kinds of goods. Design Museum Dharavi is a platform for these products and their makers, so they can be recognised by the local community, the city of Mumbai and the rest of the world. The main mission of Design Museum Dharavi is to employ design as a tool to promote social change and innovation, and to challenge the negative perception of informal settlements around the world. Over the past decades, local makers, entrepreneurs and innovators have contributed to make Dharavi a story of success and self-improvement. This so-called slum (a word we must eradicate) has little to do with the kind of apocalyptic imagery sold to the world in blockbuster movies, best-selling books and tabloids. Despite its thriving community of talented workers who have long made Dharavi their home, this neighbourhood is still inexplicably perceived as an eyesore by many Mumbaikars as well as the rest of the world. The Design Museum Dharavi aims to establish new links between Dharavi and the rest of the city, promoting a greater exchange through a cultural program that features several workshops and exhibitions. Our mission is, through design, to focus on Dharavi’s potential and showcase it as what it really is: an exciting and promising creative community, full of potential and room for development.

Design Museum Dharavi was supported by The Art of Impact (Mondriaan Fund) and Creative Industries Fund NL


Mission U-TOPIA, 2015. Solo show at AIAV Japan.

Mission U-TOPIA is the result of the collaboration between artist Jorge Mañes Rubio, Akiyoshidai International Art Village and UBE Industries, one of the largest industrial companies in Japan. Navigating between historical facts and sci-fi scenarios, Rubio transports us to a not so far future, where corporations are searching in space for the resources that are scarce on the Earth, starting a new era of colonisation and exploitation of celestial bodies. Through a collection of compelling sculptures, installations, on-site interventions, images, artefacts and a powerful sci-fi narrative, Rubio reimagines Yamaguchi’s remote landscape as the scenario of this complex journey. The project explores our changing relationship with natural resources from Earth and space, emphasising a more sustainable and responsible approach. The story takes us through the life of Akitoshi Fujiyama, a Japanese engineer who discovered a lunar meteorite on a local golf course. Before reporting his discovery to the authorities, Akitoshi breaks off a piece of the rock for himself—a decision that launches him on a lifelong quest, affecting his family, his country, and, potentially, the entire planet: going to the Moon. This comprehensive exhibition celebrates the life of this unknown local hero, challenging the relative concept of historical “truth”. Several artefacts such as a section of the Lunar Module or the Cosmic Japanese Screen are displayed together with photographs and various memorabilia from Akitoshi and his secret mission. Visitors are even encouraged to purchase a piece of the famous moon rock UBE-064 in one of the vending machines available. The theme of a fictional Cold War era Japanese Space Program allows the artist to carefully display a series of artworks with such a strong sense of history that seems that Rubio has not created Akitoshi’s story, but actually unearthed it. Collaborating together with large industrial corporations and local craftsmen from remote villages, the artist creates a collection of captivating artworks and installations inspired by historical references, futuristic materials and fascinating locations. Through the life of Akitoshi, Rubio invites us to an exciting world where the truth can be as relative and flexible as we please.


Buona Fortuna #9, from the Buona Fortuna series, 2015. Digital pigment print, 150x100cm, edition of 6 + 2AP. 

In Buona Fortuna, the artist transports us to the mountains of the “Parco Nazionale del Cilento” in the south of Italy, where several isolated villages were abandoned after a series of devastating earthquakes and landslides. Hidden among these ruins, and despite all the decay and destruction, several churches and chapels reveal themselves in all their glory. A closer look into Rubio’s photographs expose empty altars and pedestals; in fact all the relics are missing. This is a direct consequence from the looters and art merchants who didn’t think twice about breaking in and remove paintings, sculptures and other sacred relics. Despite all the emptiness and destruction, Rubio manages to capture these places in all their beauty. A tragic, sublime, almost surreal representation of a fragile yet astounding legacy. With his large format colour prints, the artist invites us to walk into an ephemeral world where grandeur and decadence clash. A conflict that draws the viewer into a deeper reflection about the value of these contemporary ruins, and ultimately the meaning of them. Buona Fortuna is not asking for reconstruction nor restoration of the churches, but to preserve them as what they are today: true works of art. But for now, his photographs have brought places back to life; places that we couldn’t even dream of.


The Old Town of Fengdu, from the Normal Pool Level series, 2013. Digital pigment print, 150x100cm, edition of 6 + 2AP.* 

The Three Gorges Dam is China’s most ambitious construction since the Great Wall. In July 2012 the largest Hydroelectric project in the world was fully functional for the first time. The project and its new 660 km long reservoir generated a huge environmental and human impact in the Yangtze valley, flooding 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,352 villages, submerging thousands of years of Chinese history. It has so far forced 4 million people to relocate. New and bigger cities have been built on higher ground, keeping the same names from the ones that disappeared. The Three Gorges reservoir has been turned into one of the top touristic attractions in China, and every season thousands of western visitors sail along the Yangtze in luxury cruises enjoying “cultural parks” that bring together new buildings or manufactured relics put together for the sole purpose of entertaining foreigners. In January 2013 artist Jorge Mañes Rubio decided to travel off-season along the Yangtze river to collect and transform a series of objects that depict the complex changes that have occurred in the area. The dislocations between both past and future, tradition vs. modernity, and memory vs. progress are crucial to understand a journey where the artist presents us an alternative narrative. Through his photographs and fictional souvenirs a more accurate experience of the area’s transformation is thoroughly revealed. The project comprises a collection of objects, photographs, drawings and installations that become the narrators of the artist’s journey. By travelling off the beaten track and engaging with the locals Rubio manages to create an array of symbols and memorials that don’t seem to belong to Eastern nor Western culture, portraying the identity clash that the area has been going through in the past few years and the cost the region is paying for the country’s development.

Normal Pool Level was supported by the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art CFCCA through their artist-in-residence program.

*This is a picture of a man swimming across the Yangtze at the exact point where the old town of Fengdu lays underwater. Fengdu was an important tourist spot thanks to its ‘Ghost Town’  —a cultural complex of shrines dedicated to the Chinese vision of the afterlife— but most of it was submerged together with the old Fengdu. A new relic park is being built for touristic purposes but the meaning of this sacred place, more than 2000 years old, is forever lost to locals.