Space Colonization in the Age of the Anthropocene

Together with Henie Onstad Art Center, Media Aesthetics at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo, is creating the symposium “Space Colonization in the Age of the Anthropocene”.

Information about enrollment

The symposium is open to all interested, but requires registration.

Please register here.

The participation fee of NOK 150,- covers the symposium, lunch and refreshments, the entrance to the exhibition and the reception afterwards.

About the Symposium

This symposium is organized in connection to the exhibition The Moon. From Inner Worlds to Outer Space shown at Henie Onstad Art Center (15.02-19.05.2019). In celebration of the 50th year anniversary for the first manned moon landing in 1969, the exhibition brings together art, cinema, music, architecture, cultural history, design and natural history.

Space colonization, the topic for the symposium, is one of the six key themes in the exhibition, along with Selenography, Moon light, Myths of the Moon, Moon landing and Deep time. In 1959, two years after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit around Earth, UN established The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, with the specific aim to prevent placement of nuclear weapons on the moon and in space. In 1967, the committee established a space treatise which lays down the framework for legislation on space, stating that outer space is open to peaceful exploration for all nations, but that “outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”. The moon was thus defined as common property, as part of the global commons on par with the sea bed and the atmosphere. 

In the last decades, however, we have witnessed the advent of a new space age, driven by nation states as well as private, commercial agents. In this new space age, the moon is not predominantly a goal in itself, but a launching pad for missions further out in the universe. A host of different agents currently explore the possibilities for permanent moon bases and mining in outer space, in ways that radically challenge the principle of the moon as part of “the global commons”. In a larger, cosmic perspective, the moon is increasingly conceived as a suburb to Earth, and outer space becomes an arena for geopolitical tensions and militaristic agendas where super powers like USA, China and Russia are central actors. The symposium directs attention to this ongoing colonialization of space, as this is explored by artists and scholars with a particular investment in the interrelation between media technologies, imaging and imagining of space for its conquest.  

An underlying theme in the symposium – and the exhibition – is the notion of the Anthropocene. The notion was popularized throughout the 2000s by atmosphere chemist Paul J. Crutzen and is increasingly employed to indicate that Earth has entered a new geological age, wherein humans impact Earth on a planetary level – for example by moving more mass than other factors such as wind conditions, erosion, and plate tectonics. In his book Facing Gaia (2017), Bruno Latour describes this as a radically new situation, where the romantic opposition between the eternity of nature and the transience of humanity no longer makes sense. Cosmos itself is changing: glaciers are melting, the sea level is rising and species extinct at a higher speed than the political and cultural processes prescribed to prevent this development. Today, writes Latour, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. From this perspective, outer space bears a promise for new settlements as well as new economical investments.



10:00 - 10:15     Welcome: Tone Hansen and Susanne Østby Sæther
10:15 - 11:15     Jill Stuart ( London School of Economics and Political Science): Who Owns the Moon
11:15 - 11:30     Break
11:30 - 12:30     Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London): Evacuate Earth
12:30 - 14:00     Lunch break and exhibition visit
14:00 - 15:00     Lorenz Engell (IKKM, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar): The „Anthropic  Principle“: Planet Earth Between Cosmos, Humans, and Media.
15:00 - 15:15     Break
15:15 - 16:15     Cath Le Couteur: PROJECT ADRIFT - The Hidden World of Space Junk.
16:25 - 16:30     Break

16.30 - 17:00  Stefano Catucci: Learning from the Moon
17:00 - 17:15 Stefano Catucci: Responses to previous talks
17:15 - 17:30 Final discussion/farewell
Followed by a reception.



Jill Stuart: Who Owns the Moon

Who owns the Moon and other celestial territory—and how did it come to be that way? In this lecture Dr Jill Stuart introduces the international legal framework that governs outer space. She also explains the political events and motivations that led to the creation of these laws. Established during the Cold War, she argues that it was politics as much as science that inspired humanity’s first forays into outer space. She then explores the ethics and politics of outer space exploration looking towards the future. This raises questions such as: Who has a right to colonise space—legally and ethically? Who can and should be humanity’s vanguard into the cosmos, if we should even be attempting to colonise other planets at all? This lecture looks ‘out’ into space exploration, but also asks the audience to reflect back ‘in’, on planet Earth and humanity’s motivations and intentions.


Peter Adey: Evacuate Earth

Perhaps we have always wished to leave the planet, but how and why would we do so? What efforts have we gone to in order to predict, anticipate, plan for and potentially practice planetary evacuation? From religious belief in the rapture to Hollywood disaster movies and science fiction, from popular culture and the so-called climate future imaginations of ‘cli-fi’, societies have frequently postured apocalyptic and catastrophic scenarios, many of them in the later half of the 20th century. These have commonly featured a fragile, warmed, cooled, maybe depleted world – and sometimes the reverse in an excess of rubbish, dust, debris. The planet is rendered uninhabitable. Within this trope, humanity’s only future is an off-planet exodus, colonisation, or even a temporary vacation.

A post-human Earth is left in a state of barbarism, perhaps tended by drones. The advanced mechanisms to leave so swiftly, and on mass, may betray the conceit of the apparent inability of society to save the world in the first place. The world is often held in a sublime state of emptiness. The evacuation usually comes from the emergency of an intensified present of threat, even if the causes have been long in the making. Attempts at the evacuation of the earth can be inverted. As the Biosphere 2 project has folded in on at least some of its original ideas of how we might live extra-planetarily, the ‘greenhouse spaceship’ become an experiment with which to think and rethink Biosphere 1 and how we live on it. The evacuation becomes a vehicle with which to engage politically, scientifically and ethically with the world we know.


Lorenz Engell: The „Anthropic Principle“: Planet Earth Between Cosmos, Humans, and Media.

The paper starts with a presentation of the "Anthropic Principle", a cosmological theory about the (im)probability of human existence in space. According to the „Anthropic Principle“ of cosmology, all descriptions, depictions, calculations, measurements, models and representations of the universe must necessarily include a scene or habitat in which one specific and particularly intelligent being can occur and exist who figures as the author and hence as the condition of all these descriptions, depictions and calculations.  In general, "the human being" is placed in this position as a condition for the cosmos to come to existence, thus assuming a central function for the mere being of the universe. - Analyzing television pictures of Planet Earth taken from outer space, however, the paper shows that the cosmological habitat (the Earth), is a media product form early on. The habitat must hence always include not (just) the (human) authors, but the media of representation, depiction and measurement of the universe, such as television and others. The assumed anthropic scene as a condition of possibility of the cosmos is therefore necessarily a non-centered med-anthropic, e.g. televisual habitat in which media and humans have always already intertwined. Slightly altering a quotation from philosopher Günter Anders, the televised (or otherwise mediatized) globe  is the eyeball through which, according to the „Med-Anthropic Principle“, cosmos looks at itself and hence generates itself.


Cath Le Couteur: PROJECT ADRIFT - The Hidden World of Space Junk

On March 17 1958, Vanguard, the first solar-powered satellite, was launched into space. At that time, space junk did not exist. Now, over one hundred million pieces of human-made space junk orbit Earth, including perfectly preserved dead satellites, rocket parts, fuel tanks, batteries, paint flecks and collision debris.
Project Adrift is an art project that seeks to reveal this growing crisis in a three-part experience, comprising; a short documentary film ‘Adrift’ which follows the tale of a dropped spatula by an astronaut in 2006; a mechanical sound instrument ‘Machine 9’ that sonifies the sound of space junk as it flies overhead in real time; and a ‘Spacebot Interactive’, enabling audiences to follow an individual piece of space junk and communicate with it live via Twitter as it orbits Earth.
A provocative artwork, Project Adrift engages with the contradictions of space junk: a destructive museum of space exploration, with its strangeness, beauty, familiarity and peril, hurtling above our heads, threatening future space exploration and sometimes landing on Earth. The project explores the question of how we might engage with this seemingly hidden cloud of debris. A cloud with the potential to become an impenetrable shroud, trapping us for hundreds of years inside the ruins of some of our most advanced technologies.
Project Adrift is a collaboration between filmmaker and technologist Cath Le Couteur and sound artist and composer Nick Ryan. More information on the project


Stefano Catucci: Learning from the Moon

Abstract follows soon.



Dr Jill Stuart is an academic based at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is an expert in the politics, ethics and law of outer space exploration and exploitation. She is on the Board of Advisors of METI International, an organisation working on Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence. She is a frequent presence in the global media (print, radio, television, documentary) and regularly gives lectures around the world. From 2013-2017 she was Editor in Chief of the Elsevier journal Space Policy where she remains a member of the Editorial Board.

Peter Adey is Professor of Human Geography at Royal Holloway University of London. He has written extensively about air, mobility, and the elemental, and is the author and co-editor of six books, including Aerial Life: Mobilities, Subjects, Affects, and Air: Nature and Culture. He is also co-editor of From Above: War, Violence, and Verticality (ed.) and The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities. Peter is currently finishing a genealogy of evacuation titled The Way We Evacuate, forthcoming with Duke University Press.

Lorenz Engell is a film and television scholar and professor of media philosophy at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany. He is currently the co-director of the international research centre for cultural technologies and media philosophy (IKKM). He is also co-editor of „Zeitschrift für Medien- und Kulturforschung“ and of the „Film Denken“ series. His research has centered mainly around the agency of moving images. Recent project participations and publications include „Operative Ontologies and Ontographies“; Media Anthropology; the Habitat Diorama; „The Switch Image. Television philosophy“ (book project scheduled for 2020); „Emergence and Immersion“; and "The Mediocene".

Cath Le Couteur studied Directing at the National Film and Television School, UK. Her short films won a number of awards and screened at key film festivals including Edinburgh, Berlinale and Cannes. She is a fellow of the MacDowell Colony, Cinefondation Cannes and Rockefeller Belagio Artist Residencies. She recently won the Open Call Award from The Space (BBC/Arts Council) to create Project Adrift with sound artist Nick RyanShe is a co-founder of Shooting People, the renowned online independent filmmakers collective in the UK and NYC.

Stefano Catucci, Professor of Aesthetics at the University of Rome “Sapienza”, has published studies on early twentieth-century german and french philosophy and is the author of an Introduction to Foucault several times reprinted (ed. Laterza). He has also published the books La filosofia critica di Husserl (Husserl’s Philosophy: a critical Theory, 1995), Per una filosofia povera (Towards a Philosophy of Poverty, 2003), Potere e visibilità (Power and Visibility, 2018). The first edition of his Imparare dalla Luna (Learning from the Moon) has been released in October 2013: a new updated edition is to come in the next few weeks.


About the Exhibition

The exhibition The Moon. From Inner Worlds to Outer Space, first created at Louisiana Museum for Modern Art, circles around the fascination for the moon, its role and function for man. Bringing together a variety of works and objects spanning from the early 17thcentury to today, the exhibition shows how the moon is reflected in art and cultural history – from Galileo Galilei’s early moon maps to Norman Foster´s plan for 3D printed moon bases/settlements. In the exhibition, art, film, architecture, cultural and natural history, and design are brought together to a multi-faceted portrait of our closest neighbor in space. The moon is explored as foundational symbol and aim for romantic and artistic longings, scientific explorations and existential questions, as well as for political expansion. With the exhibition, Henie Onstad marks the 50th anniversary for the first manned moon landing (July 20, 1969), and points to a strong and renewed interest for the moon in art and as base for a new strategic and economic space race. Throughout the exhibition, the intimate interrelation between art and science in the mapping and imag(in)ing of the moon is foregrounded. 


Published Mar. 11, 2019 4:34 PM - Last modified Feb. 14, 2020 1:16 PM