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The Buck stopped here

The Buck stopped here is a weekly blog by our contemporary art correspondent Louisa Buck covering the hottest events and must-see exhibitions in London and beyond

Is there life on Mars? No—but right now there’s a lot of art

The Liverpool John Moores University BA fine degree show 2020 takes place in a virtual Mars landscape

Responding to the unwelcome challenge of creating a degree show under lockdown, BA students from Liverpool John Moores University have decided not to postpone or cancel, but to transport it to another world altogether. Declaring that “our planet is currently broken” they are instead expanding art world frontiers by taking their work to Mars. With the help of Nasa’s detailed 3D scans of the Martian landscape, they have created a Degree Show on Mars website that whisks visitors across the planet’s rocky terrain and deposits them into the Gale crater on Mars. Here, the virtual landscape is littered with a disparate array of hovering objects, each of which represents one of the 53 graduating artists and their work.

A click on one of these objects results in a high-speed hurtle down a vivid wormhole back to Earth and back in time, landing up in the midst of Don’t Throw Stones in Glasshouses, an exhibition held by all the students a week before lockdown. This show has been recreated using 3D software and can be wandered through and explored, with each graduating artist’s exhibit offering yet another portal up into the present day, to their websites and the current work that they have been creating during lockdown on Earth.

Friday night’s opening party was an interplanetary affair, with a live disco reverberating from an online Martian portal, but also announcements of the favourite artists picked out from the graduates by such prestigious Earthling external selectors as the artists Ryan Gander and Kate Cooper, and the curators Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Samuel Leuenberger. Although nothing can beat a direct physical encounter with a work of art, these multi-layered time-space dimensions certainly provide a comprehensive view into each artist’s individual, collective and curatorial activities past, present and future. And it’s much more entertaining to navigate the craters of Mars and zoom through portals than plod a succession of viewing rooms.

As another of the guest selectors, the journalist Miranda Sawyer, puts it: “The extraordinary has become everyday, and vice versa. At the moment, life on earth is weird; life on Mars perhaps less so. A degree show on Mars seems quite reasonable… an excellent way to escape our smashed system and shattered plans.” With more tours, events and selections continuing throughout the summer, artistic life seems to be burgeoning on the Red Planet.