Monday 10 September 2012

Tweets in space

On September 21st we are performing Tweets in Space - an art project which beams your Twitter messages to what many believe is the closest exoplanet that might support human-like, biological life.

Scott Kildall, Nathaniel Stern

Anyone with an Internet connection can Tweet with the hashtag #tweetsinspace during the performance time, and their messages will be included in our shotgun blast to the stars.

The two of us, Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, found inspiration from various sources. First, in NASA's Kepler mission, whose purpose is to discover planets in the "habitable" or "Goldilocks" zone. The project has found over 2000 exoplanets thus far, all of which are "not too hot, not too cold, but just right" for life as we know it. Scientists now estimate that there are at least 500 million planets like this in the Milky Way alone. Our conclusion: extraterrestrial life is almost certainly out there.

Another source of great inspiration is how we use social media here on Earth. This is our second, large-scale, Internet-initiated collaboration. In 2009, we amplified the power structures and personalities on Wikipedia, and questioned how knowledge is formed on the world's most-often used encyclopedia - and thus the web and world at large. Now, we are turning to the zeitgeist of information and ideas, feelings and facts, news and tidbits, on Twitter. The project focuses on and magnifies the supposed shallowness of 140-character messages, alongside the potential depth of all of them - what we say in online conversation, as a people.

We are directing our gaze, or rather tweets, via a high-powered radio telescope, towards GJ667Cc - one of the top candidates for alien life. It is part of a triple-star system, has a mass that is about 4 times that of Earth, and orbits a dwarf star at close range. GJ667Cc most certainly has liquid water, an essential component for the kind of life found on our own planet.


Democratizing deep-space communications

Tweets in Space is by no means the first project to transmit cosmic messages with METI technologies (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Our fellow earthlings have sent songs by the Beatles, photos of ourselves shopping at supermarkets, images of national flags, and even a gold record inscribed with human forms - controversially, where the man has genitals and the woman doesn't. These slices of hand-picked content exhibit what a select few believe to be important, but ignore, or willfully exclude, our varied and collective modes of thinking and being.

Tweets in Space is "one small step" with alien communications, in that it is open to anyone with an Internet connection. It thus represents millions of voices rather than a self-selected few. More than that, our project is a dialog. There have been, very recently, a small number of projects that similarly "democratize the universe" but none are like ours: uncurated, unmediated thoughts and responses from a cooperative public. We can speak, rebut, and conclude, and nothing is left out. Our transmission will contain the good, the bad, and the provocative, the proclamations, the responses, and the commentary, together, a "giant leap" for all of humankind - as well as our soon-to-be friends.


Why a performance?

The performance time is 20:30 - 21:00 Mountain Time (3:30 AM BST / London time) on September 21st, and coincides with animated projections at Albuquerque, New Mexico's Balloon Museum as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Art. While a larger window of messaging time would potentially allow for a much greater number of tweets, it would also mean that many voices were heard (or not heard) in complete isolation. Tweets in Space intensifies and transmits real contact and connection: a continuous exchange and discussion.

By limiting the event to a small window of only 30 minutes, we are encouraging all our participants to speak then respond, conversing with one another in real-time, through networked space. We are not just sending lone tweets, but beaming a part of the entire dialogical Twitterverse, as it creates and amplifies meaning. Tweets in Space is more than a "public performance" - it "performs a public."

Add #tweetsinspace to your Twitter messages on September 21, 2012 20:30 - 21:00 Mountain Time (3:30 AM BST / London time) and we will beam them into deep space.


Scott Kildall is a cross-disciplinary artist working with video, installation, prints, sculpture and performance. Nathaniel Stern is an artist working with experimental installation and video, net art, and print.

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