If you get far enough away, you’ll be on your way back home
The Overview Effect is a message from the universe to humanity. The message is that the Earth, when seen from orbit or the moon, is a whole system, where borders and boundaries disappear, and everything is interconnected. Our planet is a tiny spaceship in an enormous universe, which is itself a whole system, of which we are an important part. – Frank White
In his 1987 book, The Overview Effect - Space Exploration and Human Evolution, Frank White describes the ‘Overview Effect’ as a transcendental, elated feeling of interconnectedness experienced by astronauts as they catch their first glimpse of the earth from orbit; viewing the planet as a unified whole; teeming with life and without political borders or troubles.
White posits the view of the earth as a utopian one, proposing the ideal that the view of earth from space has the potential (if, and when, made available to the masses) to unite humankind in peaceful unity – a single earthbound entity floating in space. However, while the view of earth from space may well fill astronauts with an inexplicable warm fuzzy feeling, it also has decidedly disquieting implications. If our planet is a tiny spaceship, what are we? Where can our identity and significance be found? And, with an undeniable pathos, why is it that we have to get so far away from our own planet to view it with any kind of amorous feelings?
Space flight has stretched the human imagination to encompass what is for most an hypothetical vantage point from which our everyday environment is eclipsed by the vastness of space, with the singularity of our planet overpowering notions of individual identity. If the view from the moon is of earth as a unified whole, then what does it mean to bring something back from the moon itself – destroying, even a little, the perfect roundness of what is both the vantage point from which to see White’s utopia, but is also our own perfectly round, romantic light source shining through the night.
Rowan Smith’s new body of work considers the effect that space flight and expansion has had, and continues to have, on the public and scientific imagination. A lonely, though beautiful and thought provoking exhibition, If you get far enough away, you’ll be on your way back home is a fitting and worthy sequel to Smith’s highly successful debut, Future Shock Lost.
Rowan Smith was born in 1983 in Cape Town. He completed his BA in Fine Art at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2007, with a body of work that won him the coveted Michealis Prize for the institution’s top student. Smith has appeared in a number of group exhibitions and in 2008 presented his first solo show, Future Shock Lost at Whatiftheworld/Galley to both critical and public acclaim; with the artist being hailed as one of the country’s ‘Bright Young Things’ in Art South Africa (Vol 7, Issue 1) in the same year. Smith is currently working in studio towards his next solo show.