Past Exhibition

Secret Satellites

Group Show - 19 March to 30 April 2011

Four Geostationary Satellites Above the Sierra Nevada (2007) © Trevor Paglen Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco

Four Geostationary Satellites Above the Sierra Nevada (2007) © Trevor Paglen Courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln and Altman Siegel Gallery, San Francisco

Installation Detail, Secret Satellites, March 2011

Installation Detail, Secret Satellites, March 2011

Installation detail, Secret Satellites, March 2011

Installation detail, Secret Satellites, March 2011

Installation detail, Secret Satellites, March 2011

Installation detail, Secret Satellites, March 2011

Installation detail, Secret Satellites, March 2011

Installation detail, Secret Satellites, March 2011

Friday 18th March, 7pm

Artists: Aisling O’Beirn (NI), Trevor Paglen (US), Simon Faithfull (UK), Joanna Griffin (UK)

Curated by Karen Downey

Amidst debates surrounding the formation of the UK Space Agency and plans to build an International Space Innovation Centre, Belfast Exposed will exhibit work by 4 artists which explores our connection to space and the orbital environment. From the perspective of the lay enthusiast, Secret Satellites explores everything from contemporary physics’ more quirky theories to secret military satellites to homemade experiments in space exploration.

Every year billions of pounds is spent on space research - the UK spends approximately £270 million per year, while NASA’s budget in 2010 was $18 billion dollars. Powerful technologies, including high-resolution observation satellites, are developed and employed in various ways; for scientific research, military and civilian observation, communications, navigation, forecasting weather etc. Since the launch of the first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957, thousands of satellites have been launched into orbit around the Earth, making up a substantial orbital environment. Secret Satellites draws our attention to this sophisticated technological world beyond our world, and asks who controls it and for what purposes? Who has access to it? How does it affect our lives, now and in the future?

It has been said that art functions as a ‘fuel’ for space exploration making ‘dreams desirable for engineers to achieve’. From astronomical illustrations to Star Trek, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to For All Mankind, from Brian Eno’s Apollo to Laurie Anderson’s The End of the Moon, art has played a significant role in stimulating the public imagination and interest in space exploration. Through astrophotography, video installation, animation and storytelling, Secret Satellites undertakes a critical role in understanding space research and its human dimension, exploring the new psychological experiences and philosophical conceptions it represents, while also questioning and challenging its politics of control.


The Other Night Sky (2007 ongoing) by Trevor Paglen

Experimental geography is the framework of Trevor Paglen's multidisciplinary practice that operates between social sciences, detective work, astronomy and contemporary art. The Other Night Sky is a project designed to track and photograph classified American satellites in Earth orbit, a total of 189 covert spacecraft. Paglen has been assisted by observational data produced by an international network of amateur ‘satellite observers’. To translate the observational data into a useable form, Paglen spent almost two years working with a team of computer scientists and engineers at the Eyebeam Center for Art + Technology to develop a software model to describe the orbital motion of classified spacecraft. With these tools, he was able to calculate the position and timing of overhead reconnaissance satellite transits and photograph them with telescopes and large-format cameras using a computer-guided mechanical mount. The resultant skyscapes are marked by trails of sunlight reflected from the hulls of obscure spacecraft hurtling through the night.

Some Structures Invisible to the Naked Eye (2011) by Aisling O'Beirn

Recent work by Belfast-based artist Aisling O’Beirn examines the politics of space from the perspective of a lay enthusiast by investigating technologies and theories behind space exploration. It is an extension of, and departure from previous work on the relationship between the politics of place and vernacular accounts of place, and is rooted in a process of uncovering tensions between disparate forms of official and of unofficial information. In Secret Satellites O'Beirn presents Some Structures Invisible to the Naked Eyein the form on an animation and wall drawings. The work represents an attempt to understand (visually) some of contemporary physics’ more quirky and abstract theories relating to space and the problem of representing huge distances, scales and time frames when discussing the formation or evolution of structures in the universe. This new work has been developed in dialogue with astronomers at Armagh Observatory.

Escape Vehicle no.6 (2004) by Simon Faithfull

Simon Faithfull’s Escape Vehicle no.6 (2004) started as a live event where a weather balloon, with a domestic chair suspended beneath it, was launched from the earth. Once the apparatus had disappeared from view, it could be watched through a live video relay as it journeyed from the ground to the edge of space. In Secret Satellites, Escape Vehicle no.6 is presented as a non-live video work in the gallery. The footage shows the chair first rush away from the fields and roads, ascend through clouds and finally (against the curvature of the earth and the vastness of outer space) begin to disintegrate. Through the work we are invited to imagine taking a journey to an uninhabitable realm, where it is impossible to breath, the temperature is minus 60 degrees and the sky dissolves into an eternity of blackness.

The Satellite Investigators (2011)

On 5 March, Joanna Griffin facilitated an open-ended, public workshop in Belfast Exposed as her contribution to Secret Satellites. The workshop set out to 'talk/make/think' through our connections to satellites, and the process involved constructing paper and card models based on a variety of concepts. Included in the exhibition are examples of satellites made and an audio recording of participants discussing the ideas behind their models. Participants included Rachel Brown, Gerard Carson, Keith Connolly, Ruby de Burca Connolly, Stephen Connolly, Ben Craig, Karen Downey, Brighdin Farren, Peter Keys, Susan Lynch, Niamh McDonnell, Aisling O'Beirn and Karolin Reichardt.

Film and installation artist, Joanna Griffin has been researching satellites for some years, investigating the historical, economic and technological factors that have sustained the satellite as an elite, power-based technology controlled largely by a few nations, notably the United States and former Soviet Union, and closed institutions such as the military, scientific research centres and governments. Griffin has collaborated with scientists at Space Science Lab, UC Berkeley and the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (the UK's largest university-based space science research group) and developed numerous projects around space research.


Secret Satellites is supported by Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council. Aisling O'Beirn and Belfast Exposed would like to thank the Armagh Observatory for supporting her work.


Artist's talk: Joanna Griffin Friday 18 March, 6pm

In conversation: Aisling O'Beirn and Professor Mark Bailey, Director, Armagh Observatory Tuesday 12 April, 3pm

Film screening: For All Mankind (1989) Director Al Reinert Thursday 21 April, 6pm

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