Interstellar arks

Ioannidou, Ersi (2018) Interstellar arks. In: Design and Displacement : Design History Society Annual Conference; 06 - 08 Sep 2018, New York, U.S.. (Unpublished)


This paper discusses the transplantation of barren technologically-sustained capsular urban-scale interiors of the cruise ship and the shopping mall to space in films such as Wall-E (2008) and Passengers (2016). Reflecting our anxiety on the current condition of the Earth – polluted, overcrowded, and fully explored – these two films portray imaginal vehicles that facilitate humankind’s exodus in space – the last frontier and humanity’s last hope for salvation. These interstellar ‘Arks’ present themselves from the outside as extraordinary achievements of human technology. Yet their interiors simulate those of cruise-ships and shopping malls; brightly-lit, technologically-enhanced wipe-clean spaces of entertainment and leisure. The technological sublimity of the exterior is contrasted with the banality of the interior. This banality is mainly a narrative device; it enhances the contrast between the claustrophobic but safe interior with the infinite, wondrous but hostile exterior and lulls the viewer into a sense of familiarity and security, so when danger strikes the shock is more acute. The interior’s thin skin veils the passengers’ dependence on technology for survival and the hostile emptiness of the surrounding environment: the two sources of danger. Furthermore, the choice for banality is justified by the plot. In these films, the human exodus from Earth is represented as an orderly and commercially profitable venture. This is not an interior for heroics but aimed to keep the passengers entertained and safe. Thus, this transplantation illustrates the wish to recreate the familiar in an unfamiliar environment and to repeat established social and spatial structures; sometimes to comic effect. In both films, nature, in the form of dirt and plants, represents the only means to reclaim the overtly commodified sterile interior and to start operating out of the strict routine imposed by its artificial time-space milieu. More or less consciously, the banality of the interiors articulates a critique towards the representative space of consumers’ society par excellence – gigantic cruise ships and shopping malls – and can be understood as a cautionary reminder that humankind is likely to recreate an unsustainable consumers’ society; the effects of which it tries to escape.

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