Over the last weekend, I spent time watching Spaceship Earth and I absolutely loved it...during the beginning. I was so excited and enthusiastic for the group of adventurers when they first successfully completed construction of the Heraclitus and the Buckyball configuration. But as the story slowly started to turn from a positive to negative light, I almost in a way started to resent the quirky voyagers. I started to resent John Allen and Margaret Augustine, the masterminds behind the Biosphere 2 project. I felt myself siding with the biospherians, some of whom felt played during their time in the biosphere. Truly, who could blame them. As they admitted that it was a wonderful life changing experience, a part of me wanted to believe that they had nothing to do with the constructs that made the scientific experiment invalid.
When it was later discovered that a C02 scrubber had been installed to reduce carbon emission and precaution against oxygen deficient suffocation, my heart sank. It did not feel like an experiment to me anymore, it felt like something else. My last glimmer of hope of the validity and sustainability of the project was crushed when the media publicized O2 being pumped into the human container. That moment was when I finally realized the project itself had been turned upside down and become what it was not originally intended to be.
I am talking about a human zoo. Biosphere 2, named so in reference to Earth's place as biosphere 1, started to resemble performance art. I felt sorry for the biospherians who seemed to be "trapped" inside. When tourists were allowed to visit the complex in the Arizona desert, the feeling of being watched for show and not science was overtaking me. I found it fascinating that I later learned that the biospherians openly admitted that they "were happy to be stars of [the] New Age zoo."
The whole movie reminded me of some of the most widely recognized performance artists. Orlan, the contemporary French body performance artist, has made a name for herself in this realm by openly performing bodily procedures, including plastic surgery, in front of a live audience. Her take is that the body is art and bodily modification is her controversial idea of enhancing that very construct. Stelarc, another well-respected artist in this field, made his mark when he grew a third ear on his arm using biocompatible material with the idea of making it capable of auditory stimulation for the world to listen to and follow his actions 24/7. Performance art certainly does not stop there. Marina Abramovic and Ulay, once romantic partners, went on for years amazing audiences in performances that culminated in a exhibit at the Great Wall of China, where the two had previously slated to get married. Performance art, to me, was exemplified in Spaceship Earth.
Orlan's body modification
Stelar's Third Ear
Marina Abramovic and Ulay at the Great Wall of China
Excluding Ed Bass and the Wall Street financiers who ultimately took over the project, I certainly hope the initial leaders of the experiment, not limited to John Allen exclusively, created the visionary idea for the primary purpose of advancing scientific research and not undertaking Bio2 as a potential profit-making initiative. By the time the University of Arizona overtook the project in 2007, it was estimated that Biosphere 2 raked in nearly $320 million in profit, which usurps the $200 million cost to initially build the chamber.
Those who watch this film and understand the meaning behind the project can conclude that it is without a doubt that John Allen was a visionary. He was an artist that translated his work into the realm of science and was one of the many pioneers to showcase that both art and science can and need to work together. But, in the end, I wholeheartedly believe that the project did not serve its intended purpose and I am not sure who or what exactly could be blamed for its demise as a stepping stone for science, but it really got me to believe that artists can certainly come from anywhere and from any field!
StokstadJun, Erik, et al. “Biosphere 2 Gets New Owner, Funding.” Science, 11 Dec. 2017, www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/06/biosphere-2-gets-new-owner-funding.
Nelson, Mark. “Biosphere 2: What Really Happened?” Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, dartmouthalumnimagazine.com/articles/biosphere-2-what-really-happened.
Cascone, Sarah. “Marina Abramović and Ulay, Whose Breakup Changed Performance Art Forever, Make Peace in a New Interview.” Artnet News, 9 May 2018, news.artnet.com/art-world/marina-abramovic-ulay-relationship-interview-1045136.
McCafferty, Georgia. “The Man with an Ear on His Arm.” CNN, Cable News Network, 13 Aug. 2015, www.cnn.com/style/article/stelarc-ear-arm-art/index.html.
Chards, María Isabel Carrasco Cara. “How An Artist Had Over Nine Plastic Surgeries To Become A Living Work Of Art.” Art - Art, Cultura Colectiva, 22 Mar. 2020, culturacolectiva.com/art/orlan-performance-artist-plastic-surgery.
Orlan. Plastic Surgery. Photograph. 2020.culturacolectiva.com/art/orlan-performance-artist-plastic-surgery.
Stelarc. Third Ear. Photograph. 2017. www.cnn.com/style/article/stelarc-ear-arm-art/index.html.
Abramovic, Marina et al. Great Wall of China. Photograph. 2005. news.artnet.com/art-world/marina-abramovic-ulay-relationship-interview-1045136.