At the Guiana Space Centre, the European spaceport in French Guiana, a new launch complex is now being built in the middle of the tropical rainforest for the next generation of European launch vehicles. The inaugural flight of the Ariane 6 into space is scheduled for summer 2021. The new launch complex consists of a number of construction facilities: an assembly hall, a mobile gantry, a launch pad, a water tower and two flame trenches. The main and upper stage of the vehicle are joined in the assembly hall whilst the solid propellant booster and payload are integrated in the mobile gantry, a 90 metre high hall equipped with cranes and a variety of mobile platforms. When completed, the gantry will weigh 8,000 tonnes and move on rails, making it one of the largest mobile buildings in the world. The defining feature of the launch pad is its two flame trenches, monumental constructions of concrete and steel, each one of which is nearly 100 metres long and buried 30 metres deep in the earth. 50,000 cubic metres of concrete and 7,000 tonnes of steel were used in their construction. At lift-off the launch vehicle’s flames and exhaust gases are channelled by an underground deflector and expelled through these two gigantic tunnels.
The work “strange eden” visualises the launch pad now under construction. The composition of the picture consists of a variety of construction elements photographed by the artist on the Guiana launch site. Digital re-composition of these elements groups them together in an aesthetically necessary compression of space since the actual construction site covers an area of over 170 hectares. The field of view is structured both by a linear perspective and by layering of foreground, middle ground and background. The individual elements of the scenery so presented come together in the digital construct to form a new unity and assume a new significance. Concrete dominates the scenery, nature is pressed into the background. The viewer’s gaze first takes in the central middle ground perspective and is then drawn through the whole image space to the gigantic mobile gantry, rising in the background from the jungle to a dramatic clouded sky. The gantry is flanked by the water tower which directs the gaze still further up into the sky. On the left and right sides of the picture the sombre gaping voids of the twin flame trenches stretch out to meet the viewer, turning attention to the figure in the foreground of the picture. Clad in a protective suit and fully isolated from its environment, this figure is expressive of the potential dangers of the place. This is where the picture lends itself to an ambivalent reading as it can easily switch from an optimistic utopian vision of the future to a possible dystopia. In future are we going to need launch pads in our new world because our present world has become uninhabitable? Finally the viewer’s gaze comes to rest on this lone figure to ponder its mysterious existence.