Billionaires are bringing back the space race, and conceptual artist and film director Ajax Axe is asking them to come back down to Earth.
In collaboration with a group of Aspen local artists and organizations, Axe has created a multidisciplinary, immersive art experience on the back of Aspen Mountain. The community-based, outdoor project entitled “The Aspen Space Station” will blast off this Saturday, Aug. 14, for the public opening event.
It’s the kickoff, the official launch, the blastoff,” Axe said.
From 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., The Aspen Space Station will turn the faraway space fantasy into a local and environmental reality with nine diverse installations by Colorado artists Chris Erickson, Lara Whitley, WALLY and Axe herself.
Additional programming for Saturday’s event includes a free watercolor painting class hosted by the Red Brick Center for the Arts, a live performance by Emily Taylor of her new song “Space Trash,” an Earth appreciation and meditation walk led by Axe and the official blastoff event at 3 p.m., which is top-secret and will be disclosed onsite, according to Axe.
The iteration will continue through Sept. 19, with many different experiential events over the next month, such as the “Aspen Black Hole Simulator Session” on Sunday, Aug. 29, a “Dance in Aspen Space” performance on Wednesday, Sept. 8, with Jenelle Figgins, ballerina for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and a talk with the exhibit’s contributing artists at Hexton Gallery.
“The whole concept is not just about art,” Axe said. “It’s about bringing the community together and looking at the resources in our community to consider how we can really appreciate and engage with what we have in our immediate environment instead of some fantasy on some faraway planet that isn’t inhabitable.”
Axe expressed how the space fantasy is a narrative over 70 years in the making — a mythology influenced by sci-fi and Hollywood and the military industrial complex. Through this project, Axe aspires to craft new narratives about the future by getting together as individual communities and envisioning ways to make life work right here on Planet Earth.
Axe developed the space station idea this past winter while she was doing a group exhibition in Lamu, Kenya — a place the artist calls her second home as she’s been living in Lamu on and off for about 11 years. In the process of creating huge structures out of baskets, which were intended for refugee housing, Axe felt the pieces looked more “space age.”
So, she brought a group of local artists on board and began manifesting The Lamu Space Station.
“It had this really weird energy to it,” Axe said. “It took on its own momentum because there’s something about combining local materials with this concept of the future that’s sticky and exciting for people.”
The project in Lamu was ready to launch over Easter weekend in April 2021, yet has been pushed back to December due to another wave of COVID-19 lockdowns, according to Axe.
After coming back to her home in Aspen, Axe was interested in continuing to play with the space station idea, planting the seed for local artists here and letting them run with it.
“When Ajax asked me to join the space station project, I was absolutely in,” said local artist Chris Erickson. “It’s this idea of really embracing all we have on this planet, taking care of what we have and experiencing that space — especially living in the majestic environment of Aspen.”
Prior to crafting his pieces for The Aspen Space Station, Erickson explained how he went up to the location of the exhibit on the back of Aspen Mountain and sat alone with the space for hours, calling his exploration a “visceral experience.”
“When you go up there, you’ll feel everything about the space — the movement of the light, the shadows and changing smells, the sounds of the river — it’s magic,” Erickson said. “I wanted these pieces to capture the essence of what it means to just be there, with that environment.”
Erickson’s installation includes various spray-painted, botanical shapes that he hand-cut from wood, sampling the artistic figures from the nature of the area. The works are in continuation with the artist’s personal project “superULTRAmega,” an exhibit he describes as a distillation of the information and stimuli that we get every day.
“With both superULTRAmega and the space station, what I create comes out of the process of filtering out the nonsense, distilling down this barrage of everything coming at us,” Erickson said.
While Axe plans to eventually expand this project across many more communities around the world, mentioning Greece, Lebanon and Northern Kenya, both she and Erickson addressed the timely significance of bringing this project to the Aspen community in particular.
“Many locals feel — and I’m going to go out on a limb and say this in an article — like a lot of the people who are coming in this year are not very respectful of the values of this community,” Axe said. “We’re at a moment where we need to really amplify and talk about what the values of this community are that make it special, or we’re gonna lose it.”
As the “glitter gulch” keeps getting shinier, Axe is gripping onto her Gonzo roots, and she believes The Aspen Space Station is one of the many local projects keeping the authentic Aspen spirit alive.
“Having this conversation here — with so many billionaires a part of this community and so many people who are investing in this space fantasy — is part of the reason I decided to do this in Aspen,” Axe said. “This allows me to go directly to the source and say, let’s do something cool right here on this planet, let’s make this fantasy here sexy and exciting.”