Art In Space
U.K. hopes to impress Martians with pop music and dots

The red, white and blue Britpop meteor that has streaked across the sky since New Labour invented Cool Britannia is set to go stellar. Beagle 2, a British-funded space probe, is bound for Mars -- and it's taking art by Damien Hirst and music by Blur along for the ride.

See also...
... by Damian Barr
... in the Whoa! section
... from October 1, 1999

Hirst's Mars-bound spot painting will differ only from its Earthly versions by being done in special iron oxides that can withstand temperatures of over 2000 degrees and act as a constant so that Beagle 2's scientific instruments can re-calibrate themselves. During all this recalibration on Mars, spot paintings on earth will gather dust or, more usefully, act as fuel with which to burn unsold Blur albums. Hirst's art might well withstand ferocious conditions on an alien planet, but the odds of it weathering the vagaries of taste on earth are slimmer than Calista Flockhart.

Hirst, however, is trilling with excitement at the thought of spearheading this interplanetary cultural invasion. "A lot of people keep saying to me, 'They will love you up there.'" Good, because the tsunami of popular opinion is already turning against him down here.

Thwumping onto the dusty surface of the red planet will trigger Beagle 2's onboard computer and send a specially recorded Blur track hurtling through the galaxy. Mars' little green (or red) men and women don't yet know they love girls who love boys who love girls. Will Martians live for coffeeeeee and teeeeee veeeeee? Doubtless they will fail to see, as many earthlings have, the worth or value of one of Damien Hirst's spots.

Earthlings should give some thought to the offense that this interplanetary pollution might cause. Dumping the now-doyennes but soon-to-be-dregs of the faddish Cool Britannia movement on the surface of the red planet could spark some kind of war. Are we willing to live a real-life version of '80s miniseries V because Mars attacks over faddish art and irritating tunes? Perhaps we should dispatch a Spice Girl as an ambassador to negotiate peace? Perhaps not.

The journey to Mars will take three years, in which time Hirst's spectacularly pickled farm animals will have gone off and Blur will be just that. Professor Pillinger, Beagle 2's creator, has failed to future-proof his invention. Had he foreseen the art or music that will grab headlines three years from now, when we will have forgotten Blur and Hirst, his project may have grabbed headlines. Instead, Blur's tune will be beamed straight past the Top-40 singles and heard only inside Damien Hirst's head as he wonders exactly where it all went wrong and why nobody is excited by his spots anymore.

First contact between two cultures will be facilitated by a spot and confirmed by a Blur. Is this the best first impression our planet can make?

Damian Leighton Barr lives high up in a big house by the sea in Brighton where he writes for The Independent, The Times & The Guardian raising funds to feed his two hamsters and his boyfriend.