Areography: Curioser and Curioser

Areography: Curioser and Curioser is an ongoing project I’m developing in collaboration with Mark Charles Smith, a composer based in NC. We are in the process of building a multimedia piece incorporating original music, dance, and raw images from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. The intent is to ask, through movement, music, and Mars rover data, an important question: to what extent do we see our universe for what it is, and to what extent do we project our internal preferences or beliefs onto our surroundings?

Humans are complicated organisms. We have the capacity to understand so much about the world we inhabit, yet we often fall short of understanding ourselves. We often fail to realize how we are actively creating our worlds with everything we do and say. We blame outside sources for our mishaps or failings, while at the same time we praise ourselves for the things that go right. We have the ability to conceive of death, to understand it and to fear it.  Centuries of exploration, of going west, of developing nations and technology, have led us now to Mars.  There we try to answer some of the most enduring questions of humanity: are we alone? Is this all there is?

This photo demonstrates how similar Mount Sharp is to the Grand Canyon.

The popular opinion in scientific circles is that the universe is so vast that there must be other life out there. Perhaps it isn’t like us, but it is life nonetheless, and can provide important information about where Earth came from and where it might go given billions of years. Mars, our closest neighbor with quite a lot in common with Earth, has long been the best starting point for such research. The photographs that Curiosity sends back are striking, simultaneously foreign and familiar. There are images showing remnants of steambeds on Mars that look nearly identical to a dry steambed on an alluvial fan in Chile, and the Mount Sharp bears more than a passing resemblance to the Grand Canyon. And science never rests: on 10/17/12 there was a new report of an Earth-like planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B in a “Goldilocks zone” (where it might be the perfect mix of hot and cold for another Earth) tens of thousands of years away by current spaceflight technology. The race is on.

This photo shows how similar rock formations of Mars and Earth look. R: Mars, L: Earth.

We are interested in questions of identity: those of self, those of the Earth, and those of the universe. This project is a journey to investigate the propensity of humans to create their own realities, even going so far as to project what is familiar onto far-away solar systems. To what extent do we layer our individual experiences, preferences, cultures, and beliefs onto objects that do not warrant them? We want so badly to believe that we are not alone and that our lives have meaning, but what if we are alone?  What if our lives don’t have meaning beyond the everyday? What if what we’re seeing is exactly what we want to see, and not what’s there? How do we move forward with unbiased research, meant to see our universe more clearly, and not construct Mars into what we think it could be or has been?

PROJECT STATUS

This piece is currently in early conception, entering early development. We are committed to our idea, and have begun the process of investigating movement and music themes. We are also inspired to work with D.C.-area air & space programs and museums, and wish to perform as part of a school education program with a pre-show space exhibit and a post-show Q&A where students can discuss our process and their own thoughts on space and research. We will be doing a lot of work to develop contacts in these areas and to secure possible performance venues in unconventional spaces such as planetariums, or theater space that can approximate the feel of an all-encompassing universe.

PIECE DESCRIPTION

The piece begins in the dark. Slowly lights flicker on, images of Mars briefly appear only to disappear, and a solitary dancer becomes visible. She is lying in a fetal position upstage, lies there long enough to make the audience worry about her. A solitary instrument becomes audible, sparse and lacking melody. The dancer moves, and the elements grow together as she begins to explore her space. It is foreign and yet familiar, and she searches only to find that the one constant in her environment is that she is alone. Then there is movement from offstage: another individual emerges from the shadows, followed over time by a few others. The instrumentation begins to grow and become more dense, and the images take on more authority in the performance space. Images are shown on multiple surfaces, dancers and musicians emerge from the audience area as well as the stage, effectively encapsulating the audience in the experience of the piece. The movement and music continuously reference refrains from the opening solo section that the new performers seem to know intimately without being taught. It is the indication that the first dancer may not be in her right mind. Indeed, she is seeking so desperately for there to be anything familiar out there that she has created it. Over the course of the piece, the relationships between her and the rest of the performers grow increasingly curious. In the end she is still alone, and the audience must decide if she has made the entire experience up out of desperation, or if there truly is something else out there.

For more on the Mars Curiosity Rover, including pictures, a blog feed, twitter, space exploration games, and all the research you could hope for, visit NASA’s Mars Exploration Program site.

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