Jelena Vesić: Cordially Meeting the Others

Lecture 01.06.17, 7 pm

Cordially Meeting the Others: The Artistic Life of the Pioneer Plaque and (Post-)Colonial Discontents in the Image of Universal Humans
Lecture by Jelena Vesić, Goethe-Institut Postdoctoral Fellow at Haus der Kunst; researcher on the discursive-exhibition chapter "Postcolonial: 1955–1980"

All of us are now sure that the glut of history, rumor, and evidence we call the modernist tradition is being circumscribed by a horizon. Looking down, we see more clearly its "laws" of progress, its armature hammered out of idealist philosophy, its military metaphors of advance and conquest. What a sight it is – or was!
(Brian O'Doherty, "Inside the White Cube," 1976)

This lecture examines post-colonial image politics and art-historical concepts via an analysis of the representation of universal human(s) as seen on the Pioneer Plaque, a anodized gold aluminum plate that was attached to the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecrafts in 1972 and 1973. This golden plaque was designed as a pictogram documenting the existence of intelligent life on earth and provides a generic image of humans to be presented to potential intelligent Others. The image was a part of NASA experiments and was also reproduced on the Golden Record of the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977 – the first space mission to leave the solar system and enter interstellar space.

The Pioneer Plaque represents the first example of a human-made exhibition-artifact that depicts the image of the human Self for the "gaze" of the nonhuman Other. At the same time it remains chained to the Western humanist pictorial tradition, as well as to what the art historian Erwin Panofsky called "perspective as symbolic form."

Jelena Vesić is an independent curator, writer, and lecturer. Active in the field of publishing, research, and an exhibition practice that intertwines political theory and contemporary art, she was co-editor of "Prelom — Journal of Images and Politics" (2001–2010, Belgrade), co-editor of "Red Thread" journal (Istanbul) and a member of the editorial board of "ARTMargins" (MIT Press). She has published numerous essays on curatorial practice, art historical methodology, exhibition history, and the politics of display. Her most recent book "On Neutrality" (in collaboration. with Vladimir Jerić Vlidi and Rachel O'Reilly) is part of the edition Non-Aligned Modernity (MoCA, Belgrade), which is dedicated to exploring different cases of the culture and politics of the Non-Aligned Movement as the most significant decolonization movement of the twentieth century.

Lecture made possible by
Goethe-Institut and Kulturstiftung des Bundes

In English


Pioneer Plaque, Designed by Carl Sagan and Frank Drake. Artwork prepared by Linda Salzman Sagan. Photograph by NASA Ames Resarch Center (NASA-ARC)

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