On Entering Maan/Moon the visitor is immediately struck by images of President Kennedy, who unleashed the space race in 1962, and President Trump, whose ambition to put a man on Mars has rekindled interest in space exploration.
"The space race is full of contradiction" says FOMU curator Joachim Naudts (photo top) as he points out to me a photograph of the plaque that the first astronauts to set foot on the moon took with them. "The plaque said that the astronauts came in peace as representatives of all mankind, but the landing came at the height of the Cold War. Initially the Russians were far more advanced technologically and putting a man on the moon was playing catch-up."
"Initially there was great interest in the race to put a man on the moon, a mission that also brought military advances with it, but after the first moon landing public interest waned and investments were cut back."
Today, once again space exploration is generating interest. New countries like India, China and Israel have all joined the race and private business too is involved in a field that used to be the exclusive domain of the nation states.
Maan/Moon brings historic images, but also sci-fi pictures. Sometimes the historic images look even more like fiction than the fictional ones. Below we see astronaut Scott Crossfeld test a real aluminium space suit!
Joachim Naudts: "The moon landing coincided with the Viet Nam War. If public opinion was initially enthusiastic the cost of the space race attracted criticism. Poet Gil Scott-Heron brings 'Whitey on the Moon'. All the astronauts are white, while on earth many ordinary people are still languishing in poverty."
Fabrizio Boni and Giorgio de Finis created Space Metropoliz, a video showing how refugees built their own space rocket. "If we are not welcome on earth, then we will head to the moon”.
Unfortunately the rocket didn't fly.
Interesting too is Agnes Meyer-Brandis's interpretation of the very first space adventure to take a man to the moon. "The Man in the Moone" published in 1638 recounts how geese take Domingo Gonsales to the moon. Agnes Meyer-Brandis attempts to put this into practice in our century and lives with and trains eleven geese to this end. Though she never reaches her goal, the result is a magnificent video installation.
In the nineteenth century science wasn't sufficiently advanced to allow detailed photographs of the lunar surface. What did scientists to? They created plaster mock-ups of the moon's surface that allowed photographer James Nasmyth to produce photographs representing the lunar surface.
Georges Méliès's "La Voyage dans la Lune" (1902) generates fresh interest in space travel and the moon that, especially in France, yields a plethora of postcards in which the moon gets a romantic look-in.
Many are the artists who have played with fact and fiction when it comes to the moon. Maan/Moon includes a photograph that at first sight everybody thinks represents the moon. The truth is rather different. This is simply a photograph of a pancake.
We see an excerpt from the James Bond movie "Diamonds are forever" where James Bond is chased onto a movie set where they seem to be filming a staged moon landing.
Joakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger fuel speculation Buzz Aldrin's famous footstep never reached the moon by showing the footstep but panning out into a photo studio (photo top).
Joan Fontcuberta has more fun featuring as a Russian cosmonaut, who disappeared in space. All photographs really show the artist who never left earth.
Russia's Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space and full use was made of the cosmonaut's achievement in Russian propaganda. The Americans used LIFE magazine to publicise their achievements in space. LIFE employed ground-breaking rough editing techniques in its space reports, but also conveyed the image of US astronauts as ideal men and their wives as idealised women.
Flemish photographer Harry Gruyaert was in London at the time of the Apollo missions and created art by photographing space exploration on his TV set. "BBC II TV Spots Apollo 14” has been recreated here for the first time since its initial outing in New York in 1971.
Digital video images show how photographic advances have improved how we see the moon and contrast with one of the highlights in the exhibition: one of the first photographs of the moon, a daguerreotype now kept at Harvard University (USA). Impressive is an entire wall covered in photographs taken from the “Atlas photographique de la lune”. Made between 1896 and 1910 it was the most important moon atlas of its day.
Revealing are photographs produced by NASA's Lunar Orbiters. The craft took photographs of strips of the moon. The photographs were developed on board the Orbiter, put together and transmitted back to earth as part of preparations for a lunar landing.
Striking is an image from the funeral of Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. He was the first man to die during a space mission. We see how Soviet officials survey his charred remains in the open coffin during his funeral.
Don't forget to admire a copy of “Fallen Astronaut”, a work by the Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck. The aluminium figure measures 8.5 cm. It's the only work of art ever to reach the moon and honours the 14 astronauts and cosmonauts who died in space exploration.
'Maan/Moon' curated by Maarten Dings and Joachim Naudts runs at FOMU, Waalse kaai 47 in Antwerp until 6 October 2019.