Artist ‘explores’ Mars with new project

Ian Etter brings his multi-media exploration, “Manned Mock Mars Mission (MMMM),” to the CSPS galleries May 1-June 29. An opening artist reception is planned for Thursday, May 1, 5-7 pm, at CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids. The event is free and open to all.

Blending histories of the settlement of the American West and interplanetary exploration, the exhibit covers Ian’s time in the Utah high desert and the Iowa Loess Hills where he conducted simulations of living on Mars.

The Manhattan, Kansas, native will be in residence at CSPS April 28-May 4. He will meet with students and community groups and be in the galleries on Friday, May 2, 2-6 pm and Saturday, May 3, 10 am-2 pm. The artist residency is supported by the Visual Arts Network (VAN) and the National Performance Network.

The project began with an investigation into the similarities between the paintings of the “Rocky Mountain School” and modern imagery received from Mars via technological eyes.

Etter says he’s particularly interested in the years of the westward expansion, the development of the railroad and the steps we are currently taking to colonize Mars. “Romantic imagery in the form of painting and satellite imagery has presented the public with utopias (or potential utopias) that drive the funding of the technology that is necessary to colonize these places,” he explains. “The paintings of artists such as Thomas Moran stimulated the imagination of settlers and tourists and helped fund the development of the railroad. Likewise, imagery from Mars today builds excitement in the public and helps fund NASA projects. Through mining these histories, I have created a fiction that imagines a contemporary Mars that is in the early stages of terraforming, a Mars that is being colonized using 19th century technology.”

Etter’s explorations included a two-week stint on the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in the Utah desert, where he was an artist among engineers, biologists and geologists. MDRS is an analog testing environment designed to simulate living on Mars and a first step to establishing colonies there.

Ian then designed space suits and a transportable space station for use in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa where he created his own simulation and performed a geological study of the loess soil. A relatively rare feature on Earth, loess-like structures are much more common on Mars.

The MMMM installation fills the CSPS Main and Clubhouse galleries with everything from the space suit and station Etter used in the Loess Hills to video, photographs and photogravure prints.

“I am creating artwork using the 19th materials of oil paint on linen, charcoal on paper, silverpoint on traditionally gessoed panels and photogravures,” Etter said. “Although I am relying primarily on traditional methods, each work will also incorporate a digital element. I am pulling from 18th and 19th century sources as well as contemporary imagery.

This project began with an inquiry. Just as this work is thematically about exploration, it’s an exploration in an artistic process driven by research. This is a work in progress, and although some things are likely to change it will somehow be contained within this structure. I have no clear conclusion for drawing attention to the similarities in these two time periods, although I will be searching for things which emerge and clarify themselves through this investigation.”

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