When NASA’s Voyager Program launched in 1977, each of the two unmanned probes, headed for Jupiter, Saturn and beyond the solar system, carried onboard a “golden record” that contained pictures and audio recordings of Earth, intended for extraterrestrial eyes and ears. The interstellar message in a bottle included greetings in 55 languages, animal sounds (like whale song), music (from tribal to rock and roll), as well as an hour-long recording of the brainwaves of author Carl Sagan’s wife, Ann Druyan. In 1976, Warner Bros. released Clint Eastwood’s revisionist western “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” about a peaceful man driven to brutal revenge when his family is murdered.
What do these facts have in common? Virtually nothing, it would seem, besides their historical proximity. But Eric Zimmerman connects them in a way that offers a thoughtful philosophy for existence. For their exhibition, titled “Cosmos,” Zimmerman and Emilie Halpern collaborated on “ You Are Here (Endlessly).” It’s a low, circular platform covered in a gold, reflective material used to insulate spacecraft. It’s a large-scale recreation of the Voyager Golden Record, augmented by two Califone cassette recorders, each playing looped recordings of both artists reading Carl Sagan’s book “Pale Blue Dot.” (Sagan headed the committee that chose the record’s contents.) It’s an eerie homage.
Zimmerman also contributes four large-scale drawings on paper that echo the Golden Record’s random conglomeration of Earth-bound ephemera. Each one contains a textual reference to Sagan’s first chapter of “Pale Blue Dot,” “You Are Here,” as well as seemingly random imagery rendered in fine detail: a bomb crater, a 1953 Studebaker, and yes, Clint Eastwood in a Josey Wales production still. The juxtapositions create a visual rendition of what Voyager’s message might look like to an alien race: curious, baffling, coded.
Zimmerman continues the theme with his own Golden Record-esque recording “After Rodchenko (Points In A Constellation).” The two-channel recording on headphones contains spoken word and music, including some of the actual Golden Record material, along with Zimmerman’s own inspirational choices (Brian Eno, Ennio Morricone). Also included are two coffee-table-style books displaying the original imagery that inspired his drawings. All together, the elements make up an impressive body of work that’s intellectually stimulating, sonically psychedelic and visually stunning.
Halpern contributes a series of photographs and mixed-media works that appear to chart her own cosmic musings. While a little more thematically confusing than Zimmerman’s elegantly realized statement about humanity’s relative insignificance in relation to the universe, Halpern’s images are visually striking — a female mouth with fanned feathers across the bottom lip is particularly attractive and somehow possesses an iconic familiarity.
In a way, the show is a brilliant dare to all of us to construct our own interstellar mixtape and fling it into the microcosm. What will their interpretations say about ourselves?