This Saturday (7th July) is Art Night with exhibitions and installations stretching down the South Bank through Vauxhall and on to Nine Elms and Battersea. This year the festival is partnering with the Hayward Gallery, which has curated projects by twelve internationally renowned artists.
One of whom is Turkish born Halil Altındere whose exhibition, Space Refugee (2016–18), is at the British Interplanetary Society (BIS). Walking south from Vauxhall Cross you may have seen the large circular picture of an astronaut on the wall above the BIS sign. The portrait is of Syrian cosmonaut Muhammed Ahmed Faris, the first Arab and only Syrian ever to travel into space. He visited the Mir space station in 1987.
The artist traces Faris’ journey from Syrian national hero, to pariah of the brutal Assad regime who was forced into exile and now lives in Turkey. Watching the exhibition being assembled, the installation uses a statue of Faris along with memorabilia from his space mission together with found objects at the BIS. Right now, four days before opening, the installation seems to be creating the vibe of an old-fashioned space museum.
At the centre of the show is a video which features Faris talking about the difficulties he faced in Syria, how he became a refugee and whether he will ever return home. Fearful of the fate of all refugees he says: “I hope we can rebuild cities for them (refugees) in space, where there is freedom and dignity and where there is no tyranny, no injustice.” The video also includes interviews with NASA scientists and architects discussing the possibility of a refugee colony in space.
On the circular picture of Faris outside the BIS are the words: Occupy Mars. One of the curators explained that as Mars is owned by no one perhaps the refugees of the world might find a welcome there. A fanciful, but sweet idea living as they do in a ‘hostile environment’ where refugees are often just pawns in a political game.
Now I’m fairly certain some of you will be asking: What the hell is the British Interplanetary Society? I’m here to help. It was founded in 1933 by a group of space flight enthusiasts who dreamed of using rocket propulsion to explore outer space. Today, they are essentially an aeronautic lobby group or think tank who encourage everyone to get spaced, which his handy as the clubbers over the road manage it most weekends.
British Interplanetary Society, 27-29 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1SZ
The exhibition, Space Refugee (2016–18), will run for ten days.