Invisible forces compel large boulders to collide in a Martian sculpture garden. Iridescent fragments float above an abandoned pit mine. A spinning object comes to rest in a peaceful void.
This series of animated short films depicts surreal and sublime natural geology in the solar system. Scans of natural rocks and boulders captured in many parts of the world using 3D photogrammetry are set above a Martian landscape captured by the NASA/JPL HiRise Imager. The stones depicted in Areo Gardens include boulders from Joshua Tree, California, an abandoned quarry in Syracuse NY and volcanic stone formations from the coast of Senegal.
Gale Crater with Bingham Copper Mine
This speculative digital model places the largest open strip mine, Bingham Copper Mine (Utah), at scale on the edge of Gale Crater (Mars). This specific Martian site was explored by the NASA Curiosity rover in 2018-2019. The model was produced with terrain data from the MRO HiRISE satellite program (operated by NASA/JPL and ASU) and digital elevation data from USGS.
Kim Stanley Robinson in his fictional Mars series outlines the ethical conflict of human intervention on this planet. In a clever inversion of our current political color coding the “Greens” in his story are those wishing to terraform Mars for human habitability while the “Reds” take the environmental extremist standpoint that the planet should not be altered in any way. On the surface the “Red” argument is scientific, to preserve the geological record for scientific inquiry. However his characters also betray a personal, almost mystic impulse – a profound reverence for the sublime awe to be found in nature wherever in the solar system that may be found.
SpaceX’s Elon Musk dreams of a Martian city. He softens his intentions with vague optimism like “becoming a space-faring race is a lot more interesting” but the economic driver of his Martian colonization plan is resource extraction. What he is actually proposing is a mining colony. Industrial mining operations don’t tend to have such an altruistic track record on planet Earth. Typically they end with a uselessly enormous hole in the ground and a lot of toxic by-products.
It is tempting to turn towards Robert Smithson’s strategy to reclaim the exposed terrain of mining operations as sites for radical land art. But perhaps this also implies a sort of defeatism, as if the forces of industrial capital are inevitable. Might it be even more radical to consider a future in which “art-washing” the destruction of nature is not necessary in the first place?