Go back to article: Cosmonauts: Birth of an Exhibition

The contingency of display

The mannequin represented also the exhibition’s contingency of display; the inevitable selectivity and bias implicit in the exhibition owing to whatever items were available to the curatorial team and those alternatives that were not. Basic display themes and messages had been identified early in the exhibition’s planning (and most were retained through to the opening) but were still dependent on the locating of items with which to illustrate those themes. The need to include artistic representation of Russia’s relationship with the cosmos was identified and then duly delivered by way of the curatorial team’s prior knowledge of and subsequent visits to the Tretyakov Gallery (where my Cosmonauts curatorial colleague Natalia Sidlina’s previous work experience and contacts were invaluable) to choose appropriate works. But even then, the selection had to be approved by the Gallery and the highly desirable and ultimate example of cosmic suprematism – Malevich’s Black Square (1915) – was unavailable for loan.

The Tissue Equivalent Mannequin’s inclusion, however, had not been planned, nor as has been explained above, was its eventual displaying as artefact straddling the historical and the futuristic, the known and the unknown, the human and the artificial. This section, perhaps more than any other, reflected also a strength and rapport between the curatorial and design teams that had been established early in the project. This relationship moved swiftly from initial exchanges of information on the details of individual exhibition objects and assets to discussions where the conviction, context and emotion expressed were every bit as important as mere confirmation of the facts and statistics of exhibition content.

The mannequin had been encountered, almost by chance, during my first visit to Moscow for the project in September 2011 when the Museum director Ian Blatchford noticed it on the floor and almost hidden behind a door in the space gallery of the Polytechnic Museum.

Figure 12

Colour photograph of a gold coloured mannequin lying inside a space craft pilot seat

Tissue Equivalent Mannequin displayed at the Polytechnic Museum, Moscow, 2011

Its striking appearance belied the significance of it as a historic, space-flown object which only became apparent when I knelt down to read its small label. Its power to imply fundamental messages about the future of human spaceflight came only after dissatisfaction with the planned ending of the exhibition (focusing on the Mars 500 research programme) and the subsequent conversations with the design team about how its inherent ambiguity could be interpreted in the nature of its display. 

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/160508/005