Off the Wall: Rice University Public Art Commission
September 29, 2021
Off the Wall: Clarissa Tossin, The 8th Continent
September 24, 2021 - August 27, 2022
Raymond and Susan Brochstein Pavilion
The 8th Continent, Rice’s site-specific commission, is the outcome of the artist’s interest in the Moon Agreement, adopted by the United Nations in 1979, which states that the environments of the Moon and other celestial bodies “should not be disrupted” and declares their natural resources the “common heritage of mankind,” discouraging nations from making individual claims. A 2015 U.S. law skirts this restriction, however, giving private companies the right to mine the Moon and other outer-space territories, and other countries, including China, are drafting claims of their own.
Tossin’s work repurposes images of the Moon taken by NASA to identify substantial ice deposits, which can potentially be mined and used in the production of rocket fuel. In a nod to medieval and Renaissance tapestries intended to demonstrate wealth and power of colonizing countries, Tossin rendered these lunar images as textiles interwoven with metallic thread. The resulting triptych reframes humanity’s drive to explore the Moon within the long shadow of colonial conquest and resource extraction.
The left panel features Shackleton Crater, which is slated to become the first US lunar mining facility. At center, the Moon’s north and south poles are shown side by side, highlighting permanently shadowed craters that are likely to hold ice deposits that will help enable deep space exploration. On the right, a sweeping view of the southern pole appears together with Earth at a distance, recalling the iconic photograph taken by astronaut William Anders, titled Earthrise, during the 1968 Apollo 8 mission. The 8th Continent addresses the shift from environmental preservation to industrial exploitation of Earth’s diminishing resources, and considers how frontier mythologies rationalize discovery and the subsequent stages of development and extraction.
Clarissa Tossin gratefully acknowledges Dr. David Alexander from the Rice Space Institute and Dr. David A. Kring from the Lunar and Planetary Institute who generously offered guidance for this project.
Off the Wall: Clarissa Tossin is organized by Ylinka Barotto, Associate Curator, Moody Center for the Arts.