LOS ANGELES — Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. was the first African American astronaut. His dream of going into space was cut off by his death in a training accident in 1967, and widespread recognition for him was slow to come in the years afterward (NASA honored him last year, on the 50th anniversary of his death). Now, Tavares Strachan is seeking to cast a new spotlight on the astronaut, and is doing so the way only a conceptual artist can: by sending Lawrence’s “soul” into space.
The Bahamian-born Strachan has previously explored ideas around harsh environments in his work, and also used it to bring overlooked black figures from history into public consciousness. In 2014, he was one of the inaugural recipients of grant awards from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s then-new Art + Technology Lab. With his grant, he initially created Lift Off, a project in which he launched rockets made with local Bahamian materials.
Subsequent conversations with representatives of Art + Technology Lab sponsor SpaceX led Strachan to reorient his grant toward ENOCH. As Art + Technology Lab director Joel Ferree tells Hyperallergic: “He started thinking about sending something into space, and so we had a meeting with Gwynne [Shotwell] at SpaceX, and Tavares pitched this idea to them, and they’re amazing, they’re just like, ‘Yeah, okay, let’s see if we can make this happen.’ There were a lot of details that we had to work out, but from that initial meeting, this project was born.”
ENOCH melds multiple religious beliefs about the afterlife with the possibilities of immortality offered by technological process. Strachan has fashioned from 24-carat gold a canopic jar, like those used to enshrine organs for entombment in ancient Egypt. The jar bears a bust of Lawrence, and was blessed by a priest at a Shinto shrine in Fukuoka, Japan, officially designating it as a vessel for Lawrence’s soul. The name “Enoch” refers to a figure in the Abrahamic religions who did not experience bodily death, but was instead taken directly into the afterlife by God.
The jar will be launched into space on Spaceflight’s SSO-A mission, the “Smallsat Express.” This inaugural “rideshare mission” features 64 miniature satellites which will be put into sun-synchronous low Earth orbit from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. ENOCH will be one of multiple art pieces, communications satellites, and high school and university projects aboard the vehicle, commissioned by both government and independent entities from 17 different countries. Other projects aboard include a microbe experiment designed by middle school students and the first Thai-built satellite, developed at King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok. Strachan’s tribute to Lawrence is calculated to orbit the Earth for around seven years before it destabilizes and burns up in the atmosphere.
Ferree explained some of the more practical details that had to go into realizing this creative vision: “There are a lot of things you have to do to launch a satellite. You need approval from all the necessary regulatory bodies and your launch provider. They have a certain framework that you have to operate with, based on the trajectory of the rocket … We worked with Seven Stars, who helped us with project management. We also worked with Pumpkin, which builds small-scale satellites. A company called Moog produced little shock absorbers that we mounted on our deployer. Planetary Systems Corporation made that deployer, and they also helped us a lot with mitigating the risks involved.”
Preparing ENOCH for flight also entailed a rigorous testing process much like the one astronauts themselves go through. There were multiple tests to ensure the cubesat would work as intended. “One thing that we had to do was a ‘shake test,’ which basically determines what frequency the satellite will vibrate at during the launch as it’s exposed to these g-forces. You have to make sure that your payload vibrates within these given parameters of frequency. If it vibrates too much, that could cause other objects on the rocket to vibrate and pose a risk.”
SSO-A was originally scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on November 19, but it has been delayed, and is currently set to take place between November 22 and 25. LACMA will be streaming SpaceX’s webcast of the launch on its website. Soon, ENOCH will — in a way — fulfill Robert Henry Lawrence Jr.’s aspirations of space exploration.
If there is an object you have ever desired in your life, rest assured that someone in the advertising industry made money convincing you of exactly that.
Eva Hagberg’s new book sheds light on the relationship between critic and publicist Aline Louchheim and architect Eero Saarinen.
The award-winning Canadian artist explores notions of power through the imagery of science fiction in portraits, sculpture, and objects.
Custodians, groundskeepers, and movers at the Rhode Island School of Design are seeking wage improvement, healthcare benefits, and a retirement package.
Ceramic fried eggs, critiques of real estate, and a whole booth dedicated to female-identifying saints caught my eye at Untitled, NADA, and Art Miami.
This affordable, interdisciplinary program with excellent facilities and private studios offers in-person instruction for 2023.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office recovered 23 looted objects from Shelby White’s home over the last year and a half.
An egregious “anti-woke” billboard erected in Los Angeles attempts to sow division among Latino/a/x communities.
The latest episode of this documentary series on PBS explores the meaning of home through handmade objects, hand built homes, and the artists who create them.
This week, missed signs of previous life on Mars, the appeal of forged art, and why are blue whales singing in lower octaves?
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed forcefully posits multiple parallels between the world Nan Goldin grew up in and the one she fights in today.
Rhode Island School of Design opens registration for its residential summer Pre-College program and year-round online intensive Advanced Program Online.
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very Los Angeles art events this month, including Bob Thompson, Aimee Goguen, Uta Barth, the Transcendental Painting Group, and more.
There is the singular artist and then there is the more exclusive club that has only one member. Harvey belongs to the latter.