Neck of the Moon / Yale School of Architecture
New Haven, 2018

Project Team:
El Hadi Jazairy + Rania Ghosn
Jia Weng, Mingchuan Yang, Shuya Xu, Hsin-Han Lee, Sihao Xiong

Venue: Yale School of Architecture Gallery
180 York St, New Haven, CT 06511

On View:
January 11 - February 23, 2018

Curated by:
Jia Weng & Shuyi Yin

On the 4th of October 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, making the 58 cm diameter shiny metal sphere with four antennas the first artificial Earth satellite. The spaceflight mission also created our first piece of space junk: the carrier rocket body that launched the satellite in low orbit. In August 1966, LIFE Magazine published “Planet Earth by Dawn’s Early Light”, a photoessay from NASA’s Gemini 10 shuttle flight. Capturing the earth from the most remote perspective to date, the final photograph of the series showed a single trash bag floating in space, a bag which contained objects that the shuttle intended to leave behind before the mission’s return to Earth. At over a million feet above the planet’s surface, the plastic bag and its contents seemed categorically unrelated to trash on Earth, more of a time capsule than litter. The short essay that closed the article alerted readers to the “growing clutter of space trash” and argued that the more than 1,200 large objects in orbit could someday “cause a serious traffic problem in space.” Not even the infinite volume of outer space was exempt from the perils of trash; as the editors of LIFE observed, just as cities had become clogged with animal waste and garbage, space trash could eventually become the proper concern of extraterrestrial street cleaners.

Over the last decades, thousands of satellites from more than forty countries have been launched into orbit around the Earth. A few hundred satellites are currently operational, whereas thousands of unused satellites, satellite fragments, and leftover rockets orbit the Earth as space junk. “Orbital debris poses a risk to continued reliable use of space-based services and operations and to the safety of persons and property in space and on Earth,” observes NASA. Such material byproducts of the space age and the information age pose collision risks with operational space objects. This problem is especially significant in geostationary orbits, where satellites cluster over their primary ground targets and share with space debris the same orbital path. At that height, orbital debris will normally continue circling the Earth for centuries or more. As new satellites continue to be launched at a growing rate of over a hundred per year, the risks and detrimental effects of Earth’s orbiting junkyard are ever increasing as well.

Neck of the Moon is a project that channels the geographical matter and imagination of artificial satellites. It cleans up the orbital environment by compacting targeted space debris into a new satellite planet that orbits the Earth. Rather than displacing the debris to a lower altitude, or pulverizing it into thin air, a large tug with a robotic arm approaches and compacts large objects at high altitudes. From atom to nebula, the compacted mass grows into planet Laika, the Earth’s second moon. Its namesake, a stray dog from the streets of Moscow, was the first creature to orbit the Earth. Both Laika cyborgs share a vital generative role in humanity’s journey through the space and information age. An umbilical line ties Laika to the Earth. The cordlike structure is a space elevator that connects the Earth to the newly formed planet and supplies it with materials, and also beams the solar energy captured by Laika back to Earth.

The space elevator ducks into the 250m deep crater of Cotopaxi, for many years the world’s highest active volcano. At some fifty miles from the equator, and because of the oblate spheroid shape of the planet, the summit of Cotopaxi is of the farthest points from the Earth’s center. Its landform is also distinct. The almost symmetrical conical volcano is topped with one of the few equatorial glaciers in the world. On a clear day, its snowcapped summit is visible on the skyline from Quito. Shining with dazzling splendor at the sunset, the mountain detaches itself in the most picturesque manner from the azure vault above. Its name ‘Coto-Paxi’ is of Quichua origin, an Inca language still being spoken among the Indians of the Andes, and means ‘Neck of the Moon.’ During a full moon, the volcano crater appears to hold the planet.

This cone had impressed the geographer Alexander von Humboldt in his nineteenth-century travels to tropical America. He wrote: “We may consider this colossal mountain as one of those eternal monuments, by which nature has marked the great divisions of the terrestrial Globe.” The figure of mountains, and in particular the equatorial landforms, played a major role in Humboldt’s scientific method and vision of the globe. “There,” he noted, “the depths of the earth and the vaults of heaven display all the richness of their forms and the variety of their phenomena.” In the introduction to a volume of etchings of Andean volcanoes, the configuration of great mountain masses is constitutive of what he called “the physiognomy of nature,” which includes along with volcanoes the different grouping of plants, species of animals, zones of the earth and “the nuance of the celestial vault.” Humboldt’s influential treatise Cosmos, which draws heaven and earth together, was born on the slopes of the Andes. As he wrote, “it was the discovery of America that planted the seed of the Cosmos.”

Neck of the Moon articulates cosmic, topographical, climatic and vegetal features of the Earth’s surface and integrates forms of knowledge from scientists to artists. We are Odysseus as we travel collectively from man-ape to starman. “It is not with rockets, Sputniks or missiles that modern man will achieve the conquest of space,” observed Yves Klein. “It is by means of the powerful yet peaceful force of his sensitivity that man will inhabit space.” Beyond the generic term for satellites, спутник – sputnik in Russian – also refers to the ‘traveling companion’ or the ‘fellow traveler’ (of Earth). And so does this story, exploring what it means for us cyborgs to be embodied in these high-tech space junk worlds.

Project Details:
Nine 91x122cm drawings
Neck of the Moon Video

Click for more information about the Neck of the Moon project.