The conceptual level of Space Monuments celebrating the exploration of Space unsurprisingly refers back to a heroic military sculptural genre. A memorial to ‘Laika’ – a sculpture of a dog on a rocket, was unveiled at a military research facility in Moscow on Friday 11 April 2008. The Russian space dog, the name means ‘Barker’, pioneered space flight and became the first animal to orbit the Earth, dying within a few hours of the launch on November 3, 1957 of the one-way flight. The iconic retro-future monument of Yuri Gagarin would equally grace a space piazza in the Dan Dare – Pilot of the Future– stories from The Eagle adventure comic from the 1950s. It can only be a matter of time before the fictional Dan Dare (born 1967, Manchester) and his companion Digby (born Wigan) have a suitable memorial in their home towns. But in the literature of science-fiction there are models for conceptual future art thinking than the mundane robo-spacemen on a plinth. Among the stories in Vermilion Sands by J G Ballard, Venus Smiles describes a malignly growing organic sound sculpture, and The Cloud-Sculptors of Coral D is about carving clouds into sculptures.
As London continues to fill up with military memorials and traditional bronze statues of politicians and royalty a new 19th century style glyptotheque is emerging empowering the public symbolism of public memorials with the interests of global lobbies and the political and military establishment. On 14th July 2011 a 12-foot high statue, plus pedestal, of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was unveiled outside the British Council’s London headquarters in the Mall to represent cultural links and collective memory. It will remain in London for a period of 12 months, to mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight on Vostok 1 in 1961. The statue, cast in a silvery coloured alloy of aluminium and zinc, shows Gagarin standing on a globe in his SK-1 spacesuit, with the trajectory of his 90-minute orbit of the earth circling around it. It relates to the sculptural hierachy of the sculpture in the environs of Trafalgar Square and Admiralty Arch and has a symbolic resonance with the nearby pedestal of Captain Cook, inscribed with the words ‘circumnavigator of the globe’. The statue is an educational and arts collaboration between the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, and the British Council and is supported by a publication and exhibition, Gagarin in Britain, on the life of Gagarin and the early Soviet space programme.
The original statue stands at the entrance to Lubertsy Vocational School no 10. Made by Anatoly Novikov, one of the chief sculptors of the Stalingrad Memorial, and subsequently renamed the Volgograd Memorial. It was commissioned to commemorate what would have been Gagarin’s 50th birthday – he died in a plane crash aged 34. It is a site of pilgrimage for cosmonauts before they travel into space, with an adjacent garden with fir trees planted by cosmonauts on their safe return to earth.
Image: Sculpture of Yuri Gagarin, courtesy of British Council.
Image: The Eagle, Dan Dare, drawn by Desmond Walduck. Courtesy the Dan Dare Corporation