Considering the Red Frontier: A Review of THE INTERVIEW: Red, Red Future

Alexandra Irrera

With premonitions of climate change and the exhaustion of the Earth’s resources ever-present, humans may be gazing up towards Mars more frequently. Despite the defunding of NASA, commercial space flight seeks to bring human colonization to Mars by 2026. But what kind of future does the Red Planet hold for our species? With this question in mind, artist MPA presents THE INTERVIEW: Red, Red Future—a Fotofest exhibition commissioned by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and appearing at the museum February 27 – June 5, 2016. Stylistically minimalist, MPA’s installation utilizes the effects of participatory elements, inconclusive documentation, and unexplained phenomena to position the viewer precariously between the past and future, and science and speculation.

As primary elements of MPA’s practice, themes of performance and collaboration act as phantasmal guides in the journey through THE INTERVIEW. Visual works, such as the sculpture Long Line, reveal themselves as catalysts for the viewer’s musing about a Martian future. Partly composed of crimson rectangular rods, Long Line also features found materials gathered by the artist during walks in the California desert. This trail is arranged along two walls and in a zigzag pattern through the middle of the gallery. Walking this line is like studying a path on a topographical map. Found elements—like an upside-down cup—read as changes in the terrain; other objects indicate actions—concentric strips of tire evoke an attempt at contact via radio. Shotgun capsules represent the mortal stakes of the journey, and tiny cubes of glass evoke the beauty of discovery.

In the exhibition’s namesake artwork, THE INTERVIEW, a red reclining chair and telephone are positioned side-by-side. The phone offers the opportunity to directly converse with the artist about the Red Planet’s past and future. If prompted to leave a message, the visitor hears MPA coo, “Are you looking at Mars?” Lounging in the chair, the viewer’s gaze is directed through Red Frame (an enormous, freestanding and empty square) and toward a ruddy digital portrait. In Mars, the full sphere of the planet swells in the foreground of a desert landscape. Seated on the foundation of an absent building, this depiction of Mars encourages and questions man’s desire to call this untamed planet “home.” Positioned between the pane and the image, the participant is caught between conflicting representations of time and space. With the addition of surrounding works like Door (which bathes the exterior view from a gallery windows in red light), the viewer simultaneously encounters experiences such as the yearning for an uncharted planet, the challenges of expedition, and the creation of a Martian identity in adjacent, open-ended fragments of information.

The possibility of alien life is also omnipresent in MPA’s exhibition. It is suggested by Orbs and Overheadtwo prints of ambiguous, glowing spheres that may read as UFOs—and in MPA’s representations of the Nazca Lines—Pre-Columbian geoglyphs found across the deserts of southern Peru. Drawings of unknown origin, the enormous Lines appear in photographs next to THE INTERVIEW telephone, and as the seminal imagery in the work CODEX. Floor-bound, CODEX presents an incomplete aerial shot of one of the Peruvian Lines drawings across glass-covered tiles. Above, hangs ISS Clock—two theatrical lights that emit obfuscating UV rays and turn off and on at the rate the International Space Station (ISS) views sunrises and sunsets. Together, these works portray the mystery of the universe and the current limits of humankind’s celestial knowledge.

In THE INTERVIEW: Red, Red Future, MPA has designed a set of interactive elements to facilitate the physical and mental exploration of her viewers. Through activating components of imagination, play, and performance, MPA asks visitors to become collaborators as she considers human travel to Mars and fundamental questions of the not-so-distant future.