Right now there is a Tesla orbiting around the Earth. It’s been there since just over few days. Onboard there is a mannequin dressed as an astronaut as the driver: he has an arm on the door and the other one on the steering wheel and he’s listening to “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, in loop. Elon Musk sent it there aboard the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful aerospace carrier ever built. There are no terms of comparison to define this thing because, simply, there is no precedent. There is not even a precedent in marketing or in art because, ladies and gentlemen, that flying object orbiting above our heads is pure art. Duchamp would have bowed before such a genius, so powerful and stellar as to be useless to us humans. Some of them, in fact, have not lost the opportunity to derabricate it to pure marketing, devaluing its imaginative power, philosophical strength and the importance it has for mankind.
Perhaps Musk’s genius is incomprehensible even to Musk himself. Yet if we analyze the intuition of sending a Tesla in space (decided, we ought to remember, because the Falcon Heavy mission was only demonstrative and needed a load to be tested — no wonder that between a few cubic meters of bricks and a Tesla), it’s no wonder that Musk have chosen the latter. Leaving aside the reasons that justified it and admitting that they were largely a pure attempt to put to use a need, a Tesla in space is a great thing and also a good title for a novel.
But there’s more.
I realized this by watching the live broadcast from the cockpit. There we can see Starman floating in space. There is a background that is familiar to us after countless movies on space and after the hundreds of thousands of photos of the Earth we have already seen. Yet there is something surreal and upsetting: it is not the usual view of the Earth from space. Or rather: it’s the usual one but there’s something more as well. Something different. Something familiar.
In fact, we are not seeing the “usual” spatial images: we are seeing them framed in something we know well: the windshield of a car. That’s OK. But this car is orbiting in space. And it’s not ok anymore: it is also tremendously strange and revealing.
In short: I found myself watching this show while listening to the most beautiful soundtrack of a science fiction film in the world, or rather, of the universe: that of Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar. I was looking for Italy down there but the clouds covered it. I wanted to find a connection between me and Starman, I wanted to understand what kept me enchanted, bewitched by that video. Why I could not stop?
I could not stop because what I was seeing was a work of art, perhaps the most successful piece of contemporary art ever made. And it was not made by an artist but by an entrepreneur, perhaps the best one in recent decades but certainly not an artist.
If contemporary art is also based on decontextualization, starting from today we are facing a work that has brought this concept to its extreme consequences: an installation not only made with something familiar, but even displayed in space. Ladies and gentlemen, this is pure genius.
Art needs the observer and not just the art work itself, especially the contemporary one: and here is the observer, in front of his computer or mobile phone watching the live streaming of Starman, seeing what he sees, seeing him in the background of the Earth covered with clouds. Seeing the days passing, seeing the shadow of the earth itself on itself, seeing a celestial body that is not represented by art, is not painted, it is not carved: it is real, it is reproduced in binary code and broadcasted to millions of people everywhere in the world.
If art has a purpose, it is to show things as they have never been seen before. It’s to represent the different levels that can be applied to reality.
Putting a windshield between us viewers and the Earth, Musk did not create a disturbance (and above all he wasn’t just marketing his ideas) but he revealed a meaning that was hidden: that’s that we belong to this planet and we can perceive the bond and relationship only when an intermediate and family element — “normal” — works as a filter.
Who has ever seen the ISS up close? Who’s ever been on board? Few astronauts. But a car? We all know how it is made, what it feels like to be there, what a windshield is conceptually: it is soething that frames reality. It is normal to see a windshield, it is normal to see what it frames, but nonetheless it is surreal that this experience takes place in space. Really.
Musk created the greatest work of contemporary art in history.
Maybe without even realizing it.