Vilnius

 Julijonas Urbonas, A Planet of People (detail), 2018, 3-D human scanner, custom electronics  and software, astrophysics simulation, PVC curtain, sandblasted stainless steel. Installation view. Photo: Aistė Valiūtė

Julijonas Urbonas, A Planet of People (detail), 2018, 3-D human scanner, custom electronics and software, astrophysics simulation, PVC curtain, sandblasted stainless steel. Installation view. Photo: Aistė Valiūtė

Julijonas Urbonas

Galerija Vartai

If you were lucky, you might have been greeted by the dense sounds of a grand piano at the start of your visit to “A Planet of People,” a recent solo show by the Lithuanian artist, designer, and engineer Julijonas Urbonas. In these concerts, which took place periodically during the course of the exhibition, the composer, sound artist, and improviser Gaile˙ Griciu¯te˙ periodically played excerpts from the opera-cum-art installation Honey, Moon!—conceived and directed by Urbonas in 2018—on a piano inside a shiny, wavy circular structure that rotated in the room like an elegant spaceship.

Evolving from the artist’s longtime interest in what he calls “gravitational aesthetics,” the exhibition presented a scientifically grounded but artistically interpreted proposal to create a new celestial object by catapulting human bodies into space in such a way that they would arrive at a Lagrangian point—that is, a spot between the gravitational fields of two larger objects at which a smaller object in orbit remains at a stable distance from both. These human bodies, according to the artist, would slowly form a new core to which others would slowly attach themselves. This was the Anthropocene radicalized—not humans extracting natural resources from the environment, but their own bodies becoming raw material for “a cosmic fossil of humanity,” as Urbonas puts it: “a monument to humans of humans.”

In the gallery, the demonstration of this quasi-scientific, quasi-speculative scheme resembled a cross between a laboratory and a cutting-edge design store. Slick, shiny surfaces, streamlined silhouettes of objects, vertical screens, and column-shaped scanners seemed evidence of how science and business, blue-sky research and product development, have become indistinguishable. After all, in order to fund their investigations, scientists need to pitch their ideas on TEDx stages. And Urbonas’s pitch was strangely alluring, despite its absurdity.

After hearing the mini concert in the gallery’s first room, viewers were guided by shiny metal barriers through an otherwise empty space to a third area encircled by bright blue PVC curtains. Here, three video screens showed simulations of the stages of growth of this slowly expanding “planet of people,” and a gallery assistant was on hand, inviting you to have a 3-D scan taken of yourself so that your own virtualized body could join the substantial collection that had accumulated over the course of the exhibition. The imperfection of these scans, displayed on one of the three screens, seemed to transform gallery visitors into pure resources: anonymous, amorphous accumulations of biomass. In a video on another screen, visitors’ scanned bodies floated and jiggled around, resembling lively sperm cells under a microscope.

Urbonas’s proposal is not only an entertaining thought experiment, but also a sharp commentary on the current attempts to privatize outer space and on the economic inequality between those who think they can afford to escape one of the earth’s many possible doomsday scenarios and those who know they can’t. Our bodies and our culture are the only resources many of us possess; shouldn’t they be the basis on which we should build our future? Maybe even here and now, before the apocalypse befalls us. In the meantime, my imperfect body scan has become part of the ever larger Planet of People. Let it grow.