In late January, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti posted a photo to Twitter of what appeared to be one of French street artist Invader’s signature mosaic tiles floating over an instrument panel. The caption read, “Look what I found! Hey there, who are you? #space2iss #SpaceInvader.” That same day, Invader essentially confirmed on his Instagram that the 8-bit styled space invader was his meta-creation. “Guess where this #spaceinvader is… #space2iss #esa #Futura42 #space,” he wrote. About 48 hours later, he unveiled a wider shot of the ISS and his art. “Floating is so fun,” he wrote. Street art fans went nuts, and just like that, history was made.
But how did it get there in the first place? To find out, ANIMAL contacted the European Space Agency. “We’ve tried to connect more the world of space and the world of art,” said ESA spokesman Jules Grandsire by phone. “This seems like two worlds that don’t obviously speak to each other, although they are massive bridges.”
By virtue of his original moniker, “Space Invader,” and his past projects — the artist once sent one of his tiles into the stratosphere and created site-specific work at a planetarium in Italy — he was the perfect candidate for recruitment. “Invader, he’s a big fan of space flight and astronautics,” said Grandsire. “So we thought, yeah, we need to do something together.”
The ESA reached out to Invader and asked him if he’d participate both in space and on Earth, where he will travel to the agency’s “eight main ESA establishments throughout Europe with his mosaics,” according to a press release. For the space side of things, the artist gave the ESA two identical Space Invader-themed tiles he calls “Space2” that measured about 2 x 2.75 inches. One was flown to the International Space Station aboard European spaceship ATV-5 via an Ariane 5 launcher and the other was brought to the European Astronaut Center near Cologne, Germany. It’s at this site that astronauts from all over, including NASA, are trained, and where the ESA maintains an exact replica of the Columbus laboratory — an integral part of the ISS. On March 12, it will be permanently installed on the ISS.
The Columbus module is the ESA’s major contribution to the ISS. “[I]t is a public space because it belongs to the taxpayers of members’ states, and why not have this be invaded by art as well?” Grandsire reasoned.
The ESA has a very progressive take on the idea of public space, even in space. “What Invader does is to regain the public domain that belongs to each of us, because it is public,” said Grandsire. So it was important for them to “put art in [the Columbus module], rather than an advertisement or whatever.”
But in order to get it permanently installed aboard the ISS, Invader first had to create and install a tile for the replica on Earth. “We have a one-to-one mockup of this laboratory,” explained Grandsire. “For it to be ‘flight-like’ like we say — to be realistic — we need to recreate exactly what it’s in space.”
Invader being Invader, he apparently didn’t stop there. “When he accepted, he also took the advantage of his visit to invade a little bit more, as you would expect,” said Grandsire. In addition to putting up tiles around those facilities, he also visited their Redu (satellite) ground station in Belgium.
The ESA sees art as a way to reach young people and educate them about space. “One of the functions of the space station besides doing science is also to inspire young generations to embrace careers in science and technology,” said Grandsire. “So, we tried to do that as well with art. So it’s basically the artist helping us to inspire young generations to get into space activities.”
UPDATE: ANIMAL reached out to Invader and he offered the following short statement through his publicist: “This project is a big step in my space conquest. Next target: the moon!”