The Artistic Life of the Pioneer Plaque, Lecture by Jelena Vesic @ Grazer Kunstverein, Graz [14. März]

The Artistic Life of the Pioneer Plaque, Lecture by Jelena Vesic

19:00 - 22:00

Grazer Kunstverein
Palais Trauttmansdorff, Burggasse 4, Graz
This lecture is based on postcolonial critique of the image politics and art-historical concepts via the analysis of representation of universal human(s) as seen on the Pioneer Plaque – an anodized gold aluminum plate that was attached to the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecrafts in 1972 and 1973. This golden plaque was designed as a pictogram documenting the existence of intelligent life on earth and providing a generic image of humans to be presented to potential intelligent Others. The image was a part of NASA experiments and was also reproduced on the Golden Record of the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 – the first space mission to leave the solar system and enter interstellar space.

The Pioneer Plaque is observed in this lecture as the first example of a human-made artifact produced for the «gaze» of the nonhuman Other and therefore is firmly situated in the order of exhibiting. This lecture will also show how such objects of communication-signaling (the so-called “scientific payload”) remain chained to the Western humanist pictorial tradition – that is, how they unavoidably remain in the orbit of the gaze that projects what Panofsky calls “perspective as symbolic form”.

From a certain height people are generally good. Vertical distance encourages this generosity. Horizontality doesn't seem to have the same moral virtue (…) All of us are now sure that the glut of history, rumor, and evidence we call the modernist tradition is being circumscribed by a horizon. Looking down, we see more clearly its «laws» of progress, its armature hammered out of idealist philosophy, its military metaphors of advance and conquest. What a sight it is – or was!

(Brian O'Doherty, «Inside the White Cube,» 1976)


Jelena Vesić is an independent curator, writer, editor, and lecturer. She is the co-founder of Prelom Collective and co-editor of Red Thread – Journal for social theory, contemporary art and activism. She has published numerous essays exploring the relations between art and ideology in the fields of geopolitical art history writing, experimental art, and exhibition practices. Her most recent exhibition is Story on Copy at the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart (2017). She also curated Lecture Performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, and the Kölnischer Kunstverein (2009/2010), as well as the collective exhibition project Political Practices of (post-) Yugoslav Art (2009), which critically examined art historical concepts and narratives on Yugoslav art after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Her recent book On Neutrality, The letter from Melos (with Vladimir Jeric Vlidi and Rachel O'Reilly, 2016) is part of the Non-Aligned Modernity edition of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade, dedicated to exploring different cultural-political cases of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Lecture is part of Exhibting/IZK Theory Lecture Series and supported by Stadt Graz and Das Land Steiermark.
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