Cosmic heterotopias

Ioannidou, Ersi (2022) Cosmic heterotopias. In: Ethnographies of outer space; 1-2 Sep 2022, Trento, Italy.. (Unpublished)


In Simulacra and Simulation (1981), Jean Baudrillard provocatively declares: ‘Witness this two-bedroom/kitchen/shower put into orbit, raised to a spatial power (one could say) with the most recent lunar module … it is the end of metaphysics, the end of the phantasm, the end of science fiction’. Recent illustrations of space hotel interiors published in design magazines confirm Baudrillard’s prediction. They propose to transplant the technologically sustained capsular urban-scale interiors of the cruise ship to outer space thus putting forward a rather unexpected approach to designing a spaceship: designers stop imagining new interiors that will respond practically to functional needs in conditions of spaceflight and propose the possibility to reuse and export existing Earth interiors to outer space. This approach creates an obvious aesthetic disjunction between the exterior of a space hotel – a feat of engineering – and its interior – a mélange of design quotations somehow banal in their familiarity – and depicts the spaceship as direct descendant of the cruise ship: a heterotopic space for consumerism and escapism. More importantly, it inadvertently exports in outer space a particular kind of terrestrial spaces; the kind of spaces that Marc Augé famously defined as ‘non-places’. ‘Non-places’ constitute heterotopias that resist domestication. On Earth, Augé admits, ‘non-places’ never exist in pure form. First, people attribute symbolic values to the most standardized of objects or locations. Second, the local context with its particular social, cultural, and political practices infiltrates the interiors of ‘non-places’ providing opportunities to express and create identity, relationship, and history. Transplant these interiors in outer-space and one would expect that they become ‘non-places’ in pure form. After all, place, as Marcel Mauss suggests, is associated with ‘the idea of a culture localized in time and space’. In outer space, the lack of cultural context spatially and the absence of circadian timeframe create the perfect conditions for pure placeless-ness. Yet space interiors provide opportunities to express identity, relationship, and history, as the occupation of the International Space Station suggests. This paper argues that illustrations of interiors for space tourism inadvertently demonstrate that humankind is about to replicate the social, political, economic, and cultural structures of Earth in outer space. At the same time, by placing something recognisable – a hotel room – in an unfamiliar context – outer space –, they force us to think if the vocabulary we have developed to describe and theorise terrestrial spaces – context, heterotopia, place, non-place, placeless-ness – could be applied unproblematically to spaceship interiors.

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