On Saturday night, we entered the Armory on what we later learned was the “Earth” side of the room. The Mission Control Center was to our left, where a few men in white button-down shirts and black ties closely monitored a wall of screens, displaying shots of various dioramas and NASA equipment throughout the space. The platform was littered with McDonald’s bags and coffee cups. The team had now been at their mission for eight and a half hours, having completed nearly ⅔ of the events in our program.
Typical of Sachs’s work-for-work’s sake ethos and total adherence to code, each goofy apparatus was handmade in excruciating detail. To Mission Control’s right, two stacked black mini fridges wore a Darth Vader mask and cape. Instructions on white tape read: “DO NOT DRINK THE OLD-STYLE MINI BUDS!” Similar labels were sprinkled throughout: “DO NOT TOUCH”; “DO NOT TOUCH”; “DO NOT FUCKING TOUCH.” On one set of broom handles, notes had been made with names of important figures like “CONDOLEEZZA RICE” and “ARTHUR SACHS.” The Armory floor was staged like a fake moon landing, lit by floodlights and decorated with stiff US flags and red wooden Mars rocks. The area smelled faintly of sulfur.
When we took our seats in the stadium of folding chairs on the opposite end of the room—Mars—one of two astronauts was casting a fishing line out onto the Armory’s wooden floor. They were monitored and photographed by about 15 young guys in white button-down shirts and black ties. Periodically, staffers flew back and forth on skateboards to the glowing NASA mobile quarantine facility—a Winnebago Brave labelled “NASA,” with a small lab inside. From behind Mission Control’s wall of screens, Tom Sachs radioed instructions and permissions over the PA.
“Can I get some hot glue gun, over at…” a female British voice broadcast from one of the astronauts, both of whom turned out to be young women. One of the black-tie officials immediately glue gunned her backpack, while another filmed close-ups of the action, displayed live on a big screen above the Mission Control wall. The footage really does look as though it’s transmitted from space.
“Casting attempt number two,” said the astronaut. “Permission to cast again.”
She cast, and failed. “We have visual confirmation,” announced Mission Control. “Please cast again.”
This was the general pace of things. What follows is more or less what transpired over the next two hours. The times are all made-up.
8:47: Sample is retrieved. An unidentified object dubbed “the sample” is successfully fished. Astronaut loads the fished sample into a small red rocket.
We notice that the back of each folding chair has been catalogued and named after a powerful entity: Andrei Tarkovsky, Steve Jobs, Harvey Milk, Mexico, etc.
9:04: The astronauts attach the rocket to a string and initiate countdown. I’m already on the edge of my seat. The return rocket is successfully shot onto a sandbag to the left of the Space Winnie’s window. (This is where the sulfur smell came from; they actually ignite the thing). Applause.
9:12: Life is found on Mars. Quarantine unloads the sample and inspects it through a microscope, which is projected onto the big screen. After some focus issues, we have visual confirmation of swimming bacteria.
“We can confirm life’s potential.”
“Congratulations. We have confirmed life on Mars. Over.”
The audience explodes. The guys in quarantine shoot up for a round of hugs and back-patting.
“Roger that. We are not alone. Over.”
9:34: Mars is inseminated. Astronauts proceed to a perfectly-circular hole that has been cut out of the Armory floor, which I believe I hear described as the “rape site” for “insemination.” An astronaut pulls a poppy seed bagel out of a cooler and scrapes the seeds off with a butter knife.
(Mission Control: “Can I get a seed count?”)
An astronaut produces cream cheese and drops dollops into the hole.
9:40: Months pass. Sixties ska is broadcast over the loudspeaker as the astronauts skip over the rover. The big screen reads “120 Days Later.”
9:45: Mobile Biology Lab Parade. After 120 days have passed, poppy plants have sprouted up inside the “mobile biology lab,” a small trailer comprised of a glass case. The lab is attached to the back of the rover in order to stage a parade.
One astronaut has some difficulty hooking up the trailer. Mission Control chimes in: “Reminder that the penis on that trailer mount is rotatable.” After some futzing, we hear a male voice: “Looks like the penis is in the vagina. Over.”
Astronauts drive the trailer around the set, to a golf clap from the audience.
9:50: Harvest. An astronaut makes an incision in the poppy bulb, and liquid latex pours out. She catches it with a spoon and loads it into a sample tube. Again, Mission Control can’t resist re-affirming its manhood: “Nice flow. Over.”
9:56: Purification Ritual. I still don’t know what this is about. One of the astronauts asks, “Are we performing a purification ritual or a tea ceremony?” While at first this sounds like sarcasm, this is a serious question. Astronauts proceed on foot to the purification site: a few buckets on the floor next to a Mars rock.
Mission Control requests a comfort check.
One astronaut responds frankly that out of ten, she is at a six. Seven, reports the other.
The ladies remove their helmets and gloves, and they pour “the latex load” all over their hands.
Mission Control: “How does that feel, lieutenant?”
10:00: Tea Ceremony. The astronauts are starting to lose it. According to the schedule, they’ve been in their space suits since at least 3:13 PM, “Astronaut Meal.”
“Somebody left the door to the teahouse open,” notes the British one. The other laughs as she kicks it shut so that she may open it again.
A moment of sheer panic when a staffer realizes that the teahouse thermos is empty. With a running start, he hurtles off on a skateboard to refill.
Inside the teahouse, they request music. As they boil water and drink the tea—presumably opium—Mission Control obliges by broadcasting Biggie Smalls’s “Only You”.
The British astronaut now announces: “We were chosen to represent humanity, raped the surface [of Mars], planted our seed….and [reaped the benefits]. Despite our differences, we prevailed.”
Her crewmate quickly adds: “Can we go home now?”
10:15: Interlude. Astronauts pack up the teahouse and make their way with the sample case into the spacecraft. Mission Control requests Italian food from Fig and Olive.
“There has already been a delicious Italian pizza ordered. It will be delivered in minutes,” responds a staffer.
Mission Control sighs. “Okay.”
10:21: The audience is herded over to Earth.“RUN. Time is of the essence!” insists Mission Control. We realize that we still have, like, three stations left on our program. When we sit down in the Earth stadium, directly behind Mission Control’s wall of screens, a newcomer notes that we’re “behind schedule.”
One of the younger staff members practices tricks on his skateboard, off to the side. There seems to be an unspoken understanding that, at the moment, this is okay.
10:43: Astronauts return home. Sachs requests smiles from the astronauts. They wince and one responds, “It’s been a long seven months.”
The landing is demonstrated over the big screen with shaking close-ups of the astronauts’ faces and a sharpie drawing of a rocket which Sachs slides slowly under the lens. As another drawing of a spacecraft approaches to indicate the docking sequence, the Blue Danube evokes 2001: A Space Odyssey. The screen shows us a toy helicopter (filmed from a small diorama station), flying off screen. Sachs is making chopper noises with his palm against the mic.
10:50: Homecoming Parade.Victory song. The astronauts are carted out on a rolling platform before the audience to roaring applause. The staff gives another round of victory hugs and runs through the audience for handshakes.
It was an exhausting, imperialistic blow job to Tom Sachs and a generation of man-boys, but we exuberantly high-fived the team with the rest of the crowd. We went to a barren planet and created a 12-hour mission with a poppy seed bagel. Suddenly, the Armory didn’t look so empty. Go us.