WIJK AAN ZEE—28 August 1999. The day when heavy machinery and manpower transformed a Dutch beach into a lunar landscape of hills and craters. At sunset the labor stopped, and a live drumbeat announced the ceremony of a woman, gracing this imaginary moon with an American flag. The same evening, while the party still went on, the landscape was flattened out again, leaving no physical trace of the event behind - save the memories and a story to tell future generations
Galileo Galilei, the Father of Modern Science, is charged with heresy and sentenced to life-long house arrest for the Copernican view that the Earth is not the centre of the universe but moves around the sun
1961, April 12: The Soviet Union launches the first manned space vehicle, Vostok 1, which completes a single orbit of the Earth. “The earth is blue” - the words of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel in space, become globally famous
1961, May 5: The US launches a Mercury spacecraft carrying astronaut Alan Shepard. Defeated by the Russians in the space race by only three weeks, President Kennedy gives a spirited speech before Congress where he dedicates the resources of this nation “... to achieving the goal before the decade is out, of putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth!’ This will take billions of dollars and the invention of a new space rocket
1969, July 20: The Apollo 11 crew makes the first human landing on the moon in the Sea of Tranquility. Spacecraft commander Neil Armstrong and astronaut Buzz Aldrin spend two hours on the lunar surface setting up observation equipment and collecting rock samples. The American flag is deployed and a plaque is unveiled with the inscription: ‘Here Men From Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon. July 1969 A.D. We Came in Peace for All Mankind’
After this, Apollos 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 each landed two astronauts on the surface. For the rest of mankind, the landings have become a mediated reality. This fact and the political backdrop of the Cold War have since fueled a whole genre of conspiracy theories that question the authenticity of the moon landings. NASA holds over 100,000 still photographs taken with Hasselblad cameras from the Apollo missions, but only a small fraction, depicting the heroism of the mission, were originally released to the public. The same photographs were analyzed by conspiracy theorists who found in them numerous and by now classic clues, pointing to the physical impossibility of the missions. These theories have in turn been counter-proven by photographic expertise. Yet the debate surrounding the original landing’s authenticity continues to flourish thanks to movies like Capricorn One and online
1999, March: Aleksandra Mir is invited by Lisette Smiths of the non-profit organization Casco Projects to realize a public project in Holland. She is interested in working outdoors within the Dutch beaches, which are known to be manmade and contested territories. She conceives of the moon-landing project to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original event, effectively trying to beat JFK to his words and put a woman on the moon “... before the end of the millennium”. The implication is that if a woman is to land on the moon, she simply has to build it for herself
1999, April: The production of First Woman on the Moon begins. Casco’s office in Utrecht is turned into an information center from which press releases are sent out. The public is invited to follow the project developments. The project budget, $2,000, is spent the first day on a half-page ad in Artforum: “To announce the news of this historic event to the world”. With a zero-budget economy and a bold promise, everything from here on needs to be invented from scratch
1999, May: After initial scouting and definition of the site at the entry of the North Sea Canal, permits are cleared with the local municipalities of Belsen and Bewerwijk. Numerous filedtrips to the site lead to many Informal relations with the locals who are enthusiastic and who become directly instrumental to the realization of the work. The project’s independent economy comes to include everything from volunteer effort to corporate sponsorship, all of which will define the project’s aesthetic and outcome. Goodwill machinery and manpower is arranged from local machine parks and from the steel factory that looms above the site. The workers who normally deal with waste management agree to turn some sand and play on the beach for a day
1999, June: The feedback from the publicity campaign starts to come in. An Australian gender studies department is cheering (Go girls!) while another US feminist organization takes offense at the conflation of their cause with the use of the American flag (Imperialism!). Devoted to breaking NASA’s monopoly of space travel, the Dutch anarchist organization Association Autonomous Astronauts first shows great interest in the project, but after realizing it will not take anyone anywhere insists on its cancellation. The interest in Dutch media mounts. Starting with a short interview given to the local press, coverage escalates, resulting in the arrival of three TV stations on site. Their professional footage is eventually sold around the world and shown in places as far as Djakarta
1999, July: Over the summer more than 50 volunteers are tied to the project. Local hospitality in Wijk aan Zee includes free hotel nights for the crew and a catering tent on the beach. A band of drummers are picked up at the Utrecht railway station and invited to provide a beat on the day. Back in New York costumes are made and flags are organized
1999, August: Everything but a documentary budget is in place. Victor Hasselblad AB, the Swedish camera producer originally employed by NASA, is approached for support. They are delighted to be involved, as they claim to have advertised the moon for 30 years and are proud to continue the tradition. The question of this landing being a fake is not even raised. The issue at stake is how to get the best possible image out of it. The company equips two photographers with first class equipment and adds a 35mm panoramic camera as product placement, to be worn by Aleksandra Mir all day, just like Neil Armstrong wore his Hasselblad on the moon. The fruitful relation with Hasselblad and the contracted use of their logo in the photographs become an emblem of authenticity, a signature that effectively closes the link between NASA’s and the artist’s ambitions
1999, August 28: First Woman on the Moon is realized in ten hours. During a short morning meeting with the crew, Aleksandra Mir draws a sketch of a crater in the sand. The 300m2 full-size landscape is thereafter completely improvised by the workers themselves. During the process of digging, tons of garbage and broken glass are revealed in the sand. To protect the children who play along in the dunes, all trash is collected and placed out on tables in the tent, making for an impromptu to which the public contributes all day. By the afternoon, the water has unexpectedly risen to fill the craters, creating numerous little lakes to play in. Everyone is taking pictures of everyone else. And at sunset, the flag finally graces the highest hill, a champagne bottle is cracked open and the public is welcomed to join the astronauts on the moon. One person declares himself “The First Black Man on the Moon”, another, “The First German”
Museum of Lunar Surface Findings
1999, September: Post-production begins. Footage shot by the TV stations on site is requested and reclaimed back into the project, edited into a 10-min long video documentary that takes on a life of its own as it travels to various art venues. It serves a German conference on women’s art, an Icelandic geography show and numerous exhibitions on space. Everyone is using the moon landing for their own purposes. Hasselblad contributes the soundtrack, created for their in-house presentation of the original event; it includes newly composed music overlaid with original NASA communications and Kennedy’s famous speech, which closes the circle between the two narratives and makes for one single story.
1999, November: The video is exhibited at the Swiss Institute’s exhibition ‘Empires without States’ curated by Annette Schindler. A special event, ‘Conspiracy Night’, brings British conspiracy theorist Conrado Salas to New York. He declares the original mission a fake - shot in a Hollywood film studio - and the two events are then compared on aesthetic grounds. He also advises the artist to show her tape to Neil Armstrong and Arthur C. Clarke
2001, July: Two letters with enclosed videos are addressed to Sir. Arthur C. Clarke in Colombo and Neil Armstrong in Ohio. The two men who in the 20th century expanded our vision into outer space far beyond anyone’s imagination have chosen to live at the most peripheral places on Earth. Both send their replies, acknowledging the work with good humor
2006: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and Tate Modern in London acquire the video for their respective permanent collections. The work is acknowledged as (art) historically valid.
2006, September 9-13: , a sequel to the moon landing in the form of a 22m-high rocket built out of junk, is built for the exhibition 'Space Soon' at the Roundhouse in London. After 5 days this monumental sculpture is scrapped at a local junkyard
2008, March 19: Sir. Arthur C. Clarke dies in Sri Lanka
2012, August 25: Neil Armstrong dies in Cincinnati, Ohio
2012, October 14: Felix Baumgartner jumps to Earth from an altitude of 39 kilometres
2013, June: Tate Modern mounts the work which on permamant display for 18 months, during which an estimated 4 million people will view it.
2015: Fifteen years later the video continues to tour the world and is shown in wider and wider circles. Aleksandra Mir is invited to lecture at the International Space University in Strasbourg and to present her work at the UK Space Conference in Liverpool. Her title as First Woman on the Moon, in fact and fiction, remains uncontested.