“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.” said Albert Einstein.
But of all the unfathomable, mystifying elements of humanity, there is perhaps nothing that invokes such profound rapture as outer-space.
That inky black veil with its speckles of dead stars becomes a canvas for the imagination – a fascination rooted in human potential and blind-faith; the audacity to believe that what is impenetrable to us really exists, and to reach for it.
This liminal space between reality and the impossible is at the very core of Nahum’s artistic practice.
Working from his canal-side studio in Kreuzberg, Berlin, Nahum offers rousing reflections on the human experience – interrogating our limiting beliefs about such things as borders, gravity, time and the environment.
“Borders don’t exist from outer-space,” Nahum explains. “Even the concept of money doesn’t hold up once you leave the earth. Money, in a sense, is the biggest story ever invented – and we all believe it.”
In 2018, he became the first artist to launch an interactive artwork in outer-space (while he downplays this label as being ‘PR speak’, it is indeed, the first).
On June 29, the artwork titled “The Contour of Presence”, hurtled outer-space aboard a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station where it now lives, floating 400km above the earth’s surface.
Like a skype-date with the cosmos, The Contour of Presence is a kaleidoscopic sculpture which uses an object called Pulse to stage an intimate one-to-one video performance between outer-space and the earth.
“People are invited to walk into the exhibition, to see a mirror and by putting their hands up against it, their pulse and their heartbeat will sync up with this ethereal presence in outer-space, as it circles around you, around the earth.”
The artwork is a meditation on the oneness of humanity. How, despite the reductive silos we divide ourselves into, we are innately and irrepressibly connected.
“Right now, if I were to dig a hole directly through this point in the earth,” Nahum says, motioning his finger towards the pavement. “I might reach a man in Iraq, sitting on his window-sill, smoking a cigarette and reflecting on his every day troubles.”
“Existence is not an individual affair, we are closer to each other than we think – beyond distance and borders.”
While the Contour of Presence may’ve been a career-topping move, you get the feeling it’s just the beginning of Nahum’s dalliance with the cosmos, propped up by a life-long fascination with space plus years of academic research in the fields of art and science.
Born in 1979 in Mexico City, Nahum was a sensitive and introspective child who showed an early interest in creativity: music, drawing and anything that entertained his playful, wayward mind.
It wasn’t till his father showed him Carl Sagan’s ‘The Cosmos’ that he was clutched by the mystery of the universe.
“That series really presented the universe in a fascinating, philosophical way. It was less about science and technology, and more an investigation of our identity.”
Since then, he earned a Master in Arts from London’s Goldsmith’s University and in 2016 graduated from the International Space University (ISU), where he researched recent discoveries in Martian activity and the implications for Mars exploration.
In 2011, he founded KOSMICA, an institute that advocates for alternative and cultural uses of outer-space – seeking to democratise and demystify an industry typically dominated by male scientists.
“I believe that all of us should have a stake in humanity’s actions in outer space and in particular that artists, poets, anthropologists, musicians, philosophers and other cultural practitioners can bring unique perspectives to the debates and issues surrounding space activities.”
Alongside Contour of Presence, he’s produced a cache of star-gazing artworks, most notably 2015’s Matters of Gravity, a group exhibition inspired by a zero-gravity flight mission at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre – involving nine artists reflecting on the concept of weightlessness.
“That is the essence of my work,” Nahum explains. “To break a paradigm, to reframe the way we think about the earth and the meaning of existence. To open people’s eyes.”