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"Why is Mars an endless topic of fascination and debate? Do we project Mars as part of nature, a refuge for humanity, a boundless technological experiment or a mere commercial opportunity?" On 11 May 2017 Klaas Kuitenbrouwer gave a lecture about Gardening Mars during Thursday Night Live! Making Up Mars event. He is currently working on the Gardening Mars research that will be presented in an exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut in 2018.

Gardening Mars is about terraforming Mars. Usually, what is meant with that is the physical and biological transformation of a celestial body into an environment that is suitable to sustain Earth-originated life. Gardering Mars starts from the observation that such a physical intervention is necessarily preceded by another  -cultural- phase. Before any intervention on another planet can be designed, this planet has to be imagined as a second, other Earth. This is where terraforming begins. In this sense, Mars is the prolonged and intensely terraformed celestial body we have, In our minds we have been living on Mars for over a century now.

Gardening Mars looks at the current developments in terraforming Mars. This is motivated by the heightened dynamism around the idea of human existence on Mars and the human colonisation of space as caused by the energetic performance of new private parties like SapceX and Blue Origin in the practice of space faring, next to the tradional parties as NASA, ESA and Roscosmos. Current notions of terraforming Mars are influenced by developments on Earth like the climate crisis, the doubt as to whether technological development can continued to be equated with ‘progress’, and the unsettling realisation that an alternative is needed for the capitalist paradigm of eternal growth, without having one at hand. The idea of human existence on Mars function here an engine for speculation on possible futures. But in the possible futures that are being fomulated, it is not hard to recognise the continuation of practices that have become problematic on Earth.  With this, Gardening Mars is also a call to a more radical, holistic form of imagination that is also needed on Earth.

Gardening Mars shows various instruments and attributes that are used (on Earth) the simulate  and imagine life on Mars, and focusses on four different frames frames that can be identified in the current practice of terraforming.  The most classical frame is that of Mars through the eyes of science: Mars as pristine Nature, to be studies and observed, but not touched and changed as little as possible. Secondly, Mars is referred to as potentialrefuge, as a Planet B, that may offer humans a chance at survival, when Earth falls prey to disaster. Ecology in this frame is reduced to nothing more than human life –support. Next to this, techno-utopianists, singularity-adepts, and transhumanists see Mars as a space for a radical technological experiment, where the next steps in human evolution will be set. Finally, there are already impressive sums of capital and juridical prepaprations being invested in the expansion of the Earth economy over the solar system. In this frame, Mars is not only a thriving (post)human dwelling and devleopment site, but also an important economic hub for space mining operations that harvest rare metals from the asteroid belt.

This lecture was part of Thursday Night Live! Making Up Mars event on 11 May 2017. Read an interview with Jorge Vago (project scientist of the Exo Mars Project).

Klaas Kuitenbrouwer

Klaas Kuitenbrouwer is an expert in digital culture at Het Nieuwe Instituut and as such focuses on relations between mediation, technology and culture. He is currently working on the Gardening Mars research that will be presented in an exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut in 2018. Making Up Mars is part of the research Symbiotic Machines for Space Exploration(SyMSE) by the Willem de Kooning Academy; VU University (VU), Amsterdam; Cefet/RJ and the European Space Agency (ESA). ‘Gardening Mars’ is an initiative of Het Nieuwe Instituut.

Thursday Night at Het Nieuwe Instituut
Luca Napoli

Thursday Night Live! is a weekly programme of lectures, screenings and discussions on architecture, design and digital culture. Developments and critical insights are discussed by thinkers, designers and makers from the Netherlands and abroad.