An art show that is truly out of this world: Space art exhibition created in Cork 

Roisin Burke speaks to Sweden’s Nicklas Lundberg, who is creating art from space waste as part of a unique project in Midleton.
An art show that is truly out of this world: Space art exhibition created in Cork 

One of the satellite dishes at the National Space Centre in Elfordstown near Midleton. The NSC created the mixed-technology art project in partnership with Greywood Arts, in Killeagh. The project is supported by Cork County Council Arts Office. Picture: David Keane.

CHOSEN from 100 applicants, Swede Nicklas Lundberg is the artist in residence for Ireland’s first space-waste art project.

Mr Lundberg has arrived in Ireland in recent weeks for the month-long artist-in-residence programme at the National Space Centre (NSC), in Midleton, a programme that is looking at waste produced by the acceleration of space technology.

The work that Mr Lundberg is creating during the month is to be exhibited from December 3-5, on-site, to coincide with the NSC’s 10th-anniversary celebrations.

The NSC created the mixed-technology art project in partnership with Greywood Arts, in Killeagh. The project is supported by Cork County Council Arts Office.

The NSC is Europe’s most westerly teleport and Ireland’s only commercial ground station.

Opened as Elfordstown Earthstation in 1984, the €24m facility will celebrate 10 years as the NSC in 2021.

The company provides commercial broadcast services, ground-control support for satellites and spacecraft, academic research partnerships, and space-industry consulting.

The NSC’s co-located space campus is home to a dozen Irish space start-ups and EU-headquartered space enterprises.

 Artist Nicklas Lundberg, left, at the National Space Centre in Elfordstown near Midleton, with some of the space junk he intends to use for a space art exhibition, along with Jessica Bonenfant, artistic director at Greywood Arts and Mark Gibney, operations manager at the Space Centre. Picture: David Keane.
Artist Nicklas Lundberg, left, at the National Space Centre in Elfordstown near Midleton, with some of the space junk he intends to use for a space art exhibition, along with Jessica Bonenfant, artistic director at Greywood Arts and Mark Gibney, operations manager at the Space Centre. Picture: David Keane.

Speaking to The Echo, Mr Lundberg said he was delighted to be in Cork, working on this inaugural project.

“I was looking for opportunities, and when this showed up, I thought it was too good to be true.

“Doing this art project in collaboration with the space centre, I work with tech in my art, so this is just the perfect match.”

Mr Lundberg has a passion for space, but, more importantly, is passionately curious and he saw this as a great opportunity to deepen his knowledge.

He has an inspiring history of creating art by utilising free resources, such as scrap electronics and junk metal, blended with scientific principles, including pendulums and the doppler effect.

The result is modular visual and sculptural sound works that create open forms in constant flux.

It was hard for Mr Lundberg to leave his family — his partner, Alexandra, and his two young children, Hektor, 4, and Tella, 6 — in Sweden to take up the residency.

“It's a big deal to leave them,” Mr Lundberg said. “They are small kids: We haven’t been apart for a long time before, not for a month ever, but, thankfully, there is new technology now, video calls, etc, and they are coming over to visit as well. Hektor told me on the phone he wants to come and I promised him he could.”

Chatting about what people may expect from his exhibition, Mr Lundberg hinted there could be a little bit of everything.

“I have a lot of ideas and routes, but I also have to look around and think and talk with people and do some initial research, before I get going. It will be a mix of sounds and moving things, but I have to really explore first.”

It was hard for Mr Lundberg to leave his family — his partner, Alexandra, and his two young children, Hektor, 4, and Tella, 6 — in Sweden to take up the residency.
It was hard for Mr Lundberg to leave his family — his partner, Alexandra, and his two young children, Hektor, 4, and Tella, 6 — in Sweden to take up the residency.

Jessica Bonenfant, artistic director of Greywood Arts, Killeagh, who came up with the idea of the space-art exhibition and residency, said she had wanted to collaborate with the NSC for some time.

“It’s really exciting to see my idea come to fruition,” Ms Bonenfant said. “I wasn’t sure if it would be possible, but the enthusiastic welcome from the NSC really made the whole thing very easy.”

Ms Bonenfant said she has been getting a great reaction to the space-art residency and is looking forward to the exhibition.

“Anyone I mention the partnership to is really excited and interested.”

Greywood Arts is in a Georgian building in the centre of Killeagh village, where it focuses on artist residencies.

“We have artists of all disciplines: Writers, artists, performers. They will stay with us and work on projects from anything from a week to a month. Our main goal is to connect artists with the community. We are all about the creative process.”

Ms Bonenfant spoke of the significance of the project and highlighted the vast spectrum of people to whom it would appeal.

“It’s a mesh of two amazing worlds: Art and technology,” Ms Bonenfant said. “It’s a really engaging way to make art relevant to people who are interested in space and technology and vice versa.”

In terms of how things could be interpreted, Mr Lundberg said there was also the philosophical outlook, regarding what is out there, in terms of the universe and galaxy.

The collaborative effort involves visiting some local schools and running a digital-art project with a space focus.

“I think one of the things we realised, when this was in motion, was there was an opportunity to expand with an educational and outreach programme that would engage children’s creativity and fit in with their syllabus,” Ms Bonenfant said.

US artist Scott Gorham, who came to stay at Greywood Arts with the intention of applying for the space-waste residency, is running the school project aspect of the multi-faceted art scheme.

“I came over to work with Greywood Arts,” Mr Gorham said. “I was drawn to the National Space Centre project, but actually got involved in the logistics and practical elements of putting it together.”

Mr Gorham is working with five groups, from Gaelscoil Mhainistir Na Corann, Midleton; St Fergal’s, Killeagh; Kyle National School, Youghal, and two Greywood Arts groups run with local secondary school students.

Using smartphone technology, Mr Gorham is guiding the students through a syllabus of world-building curriculum, challenging the young minds to explore alternative ways of doing things.
Using smartphone technology, Mr Gorham is guiding the students through a syllabus of world-building curriculum, challenging the young minds to explore alternative ways of doing things.

“As I work as an educator, also, we thought this was a complementary way to bring the space-waste residency to local schools.”

Using smartphone technology, Mr Gorham is guiding the students through a syllabus of world-building curriculum, challenging the young minds to explore alternative ways of doing things.

The five classes will then make a digital time capsule, which will be broadcast in space, and a physical sculpture, inspired by the students’ ideas, will be created and put on display alongside Mr Lundberg’s work at the NSC, from December 3 to 5.

The educational aspect of the project will show young people how to imagine radical futures.

“How do we make changes to this planet, or how do we help to create radical solutions to problems we have?” Mr Gorham asked.

Mark Gibney, operations manager with the NSC, said he was happy to raise awareness of the work of the centre and to see the space junk being used for another purpose.

“There is a lot of old space technology here; all the old telecoms gear and old servers,” Mr Gibney said.

“When we cleared out the centre, we were left with a load of this junk, but it looked cool and it was cool because of what it was being used for.”

He said they had talked about donating some of it for the art project and he was impressed with the idea.

“We said, ‘Take what you want, there is some cool-looking stuff left here’,” Mr Gibney said.

Throughout the residency, he said he will offer advice and insight into what things were used for.

“It is great to be involved in a groundbreaking, landmark project that is historic in ways, because it is showcasing an era that has never been seen before.

“It is cool. I hate to see this stuff just thrown out, because it is a part of where we started, originally, and it signifies an important period of space exploration.

“The idea of making art of the space junk is really interesting.”

Mr Gibney has worked at the NSC for the past five years, from ensuring the databases are running smoothly to climbing the 32-inch deep-dish satellite in the middle of a storm to anchor parts of the antennas and strap them down against the wind.

“It’s basically a radio telescope, but it can be used for multiple applications,” Mr Gibney said.

“Deep-space photography is something we are trying to get funding for. We want to upgrade the telescope; some of the old motors and gears are seized, so we are trying to get funding to put it back into production.

 Artist Nicklas Lundberg, at the National Space Centre in Elfordstown near Midleton, with some of the space junk he intends to use for a space art exhibition.
Artist Nicklas Lundberg, at the National Space Centre in Elfordstown near Midleton, with some of the space junk he intends to use for a space art exhibition.

“It’s still a massive, 32m antenna. If given the right equipment, it could do a lot of different things,” Mr Gibney said. €1m was needed to upgrade the dish completely.

“Different applications would determine what type of refurbishment it might need,” he said.

At the moment, the dish is providing satellite internet by proxy, all around the world.

“We facilitate the internet provision. It comes from the antennas, those terminals connect here, and then through the ground to London and clients in New Zealand, the States, Italy, through fibre. It’s pretty cool.”

The exhibition will be open to the public from December 3 to 5, from 11am to 4pm, and will launch the NSC’s 10th birthday celebrations and provide a rare opportunity to visit the centre and the landmark big dish.

“We are excited to host this exhibit as the kick-off event for the National Space Centre’s 10th birthday weekend,” said Sabrina Dent, head of marketing and business development for the NSC.

“Covid has delayed events by a year, but we are absolutely thrilled to open the doors to art lovers and space enthusiasts alike for three celebratory days this December.”

The three-day exhibition will be one of the few times the NSC will be open to the public.

Weather allowing, tours of the NSC, including the site’s iconic 32-metre dish and sightings of ground stations for Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet connections, will be available through the day.

Free tickets for the exhibition, and tours, can be booked online. from November. Booking is essential and masks must be worn indoors by visitors over 13.

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