The Innovation Lab at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, Pasadena, CA.

Julia Christensen is currently working with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab to develop artwork for an interstellar spacecraft that will travel to Proxima B, a planet in the Alpha Centauri system, 4.2 lightyears from the planet Earth. It will take the spacecraft 40 years for it to reach its interstellar destination. The spacecraft will necessarily need to upgrade itself autonomously to survive the journey, due to mechanical and environmental conditions. But it will also need to upgrade itself to remain relevant to life on Earth over the course of decades. This collaboration was initiated through Christensen’s fellowship at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art + Tech Lab,

Christensen’s work considers certain technical questions about how issues of obsolescence will impact the spacecraft’s data findings when it arrives on Proxima B: Will a .jpg (or other common file types) even exist in 80 years? How will our updated communication systems interpret transmissions from the spacecraft when it arrives at its destination, decades from now?  But Christensen’s work is more concerned with the cultural questions: Who will receive the data that our interstellar explorer sends back to us? Will NASA exist in 100 years; will the nation-state even exist then, as we know it? How will we implicitly embed our own story in the design of this ship, so that our contemporary narrative is built into this future-reaching mission? What do we want that story to say? If we were to send a message to ourselves decades from now, what would it be? If we were to send a message to yet-unknown cosmic neighbors on this interstellar explorer, what would we want them to know about us?

Much like the Golden Record that was embedded on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, this artwork will tell a story about our species, and about life on Earth. But given the adaptive nature of this very spacecraft, and the non-linear, rhizomatic data systems available to us today, Christensen proposes to create a work that does not attempt to act as a singular legacy, but conveys our experience with time, change, and multiplicity. In September 2018, Christensen will lead an Advanced Studies (A-Team) conference at JPL to begin in-depth research into the development of this work.

This work is facilitated by the LACMA Art + Tech Lab; presentation of the work through LACMA is forthcoming. Christensen’s book about this project, and her long-term investigation into upgrade culture, is forthcoming from Dancing Foxes Press. Additional support for this project comes from the Guggenheim Foundation and Creative Capital.