FIRST WOMAN ON THE MOON
28 08 99
I believe we should go to the moon. I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this
decade century is out, of landing man woman on the moon and returning him her safely to earth…
President John F. Kennedy, 25 May 1961
– Aleksandra Mir, 28 August 1999
On 28 August 1999, in the small beach town of Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands, artist Aleksandra Mir made history, becoming the first woman to set foot on the surface of the moon.
Well, almost. On the thirtieth anniversary of the first moon landing in 1969, Aleksandra Mir staged a deliberately makeshift re-interpretation of the original event, casting herself in the leading roll. Turning President John F. Kennedy’s famous address to Congress – in which he outlined his intention to land a man on the moon before the beginning of the 1970s – on its head, the event acknowledged that the only way a woman would land on the moon before the end of the century was in the realm of make-believe.
Volunteers ranging from workmen with bulldozers to kids playing with spades on the beach spent the day helping Mir construct a half-convincing lunar landscape of hills and craters. As the sun set, Mir, surrounded by enthusiastic children, scaled the highest peak and planted an American flag to the sound of live drumming. After the ceremony, the flag was uprooted and the surface of the moon flattened, leaving no trace except people’s memories and the footage and photographs that had been shot during the course of the day.
The low budget, small-scale event is captured in a video in which, Mir has written, ‘the bombastics of the original moon landing is played against my pathetic and feminine attempts’. Set on an unremarkable stretch of beach, with its wind turbines, passing cruise ships and smoke-billowing power plant nearby, First Woman on the Moon is a parody of traditional representations of space travel. Mir’s deliberately ‘off’, lo-fi approach shows up the extent to which our experiences of space travel are normally mediated through slick news coverage or big budget, feature-length films.
Put together from a combination of amateur footage, still photographs and television coverage from the day, Mir’s film is accompanied by a self-consciously campy, retrofuturistic synth soundtrack that punctures the pioneer spirit traditionally associated with moon landings. Original communications between moon-bound astronauts and NASA – ‘it’s very, very fine-grained as you get close to it, it’s almost like a powder’ – are playfully laid over sped-up footage of building site machinery shifting bucketloads of beach and a boy aimlessly flicking sand over his shoulder at the base of a dune.
So, Mir’s film is not ‘pathetic’ in a derogatory sense so much as it deliberately underwhelms where historical portrayals of moon landings would aim to impress. Aware of its own limitations – landing a woman on the moon for real is something that, for the time being, can only be imagined – and the history of moon landings that it is writing itself into, Mir’s artwork prises open a small space where we can imagine alternative versions of our world that harbour different histories – ones that include the voices and achievements of those not included in historically mainstream narratives.
After making the video, Mir also sent it to figures such as astronaut Neil Armstrong and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, who could only reply:
I wonder when the first woman will really be on the Moon…
Aleksandra Mir was born in 1967 in Lubin, Poland. She is a citizen of Sweden and USA and currently lives in London
For more on Aleksandra Mir’s First Woman on the Moon, see her website here: http://www.aleksandramir.info/projects/first-woman-on-the-moon