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

In conjunction with her fellowship at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Art + Tech Lab, 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.

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? 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?

Beginning in the summer of 2018, Christensen will work with scientists at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL)’s Innovation Lab to develop an artwork that could potentially be embedded on this spacecraft. Much like the Golden Record that was embedded on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, this document 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 develop a document that shifts and transforms over time, telling a story of our human relationship with time and change. 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. A book about this project, along with other works in Christensen’s ongoing investigation into upgrade culture, will launch in 2019.

This work is facilitated by the LACMA Art + Tech Lab, who initiated the collaboration between Christensen and JPL; presentation of the work through LACMA is forthcoming. Additional support for this project comes from the Guggenheim Foundation and Creative Capital.