First Woman on the Moon is a single-channel colour video depicting a staged moon landing, which took place near the town of Beverwijk in the Netherlands on 28 August 1999. Heavy machinery was used to construct false craters on a 200 x 300 metre section of a man-made beach so that the area broadly resembled a lunar landscape. The video combines amateur footage with clips from television coverage and still photographs, and although it is not presented in clear chronological order, it loosely progresses from images showing the general beach area, through to a longer middle section primarily focusing on the landscaping process, to a final segment in which the artist climbs onto one of the craters and raises the American flag. Throughout the video, people are frequently depicted taking photographs or filming the event. As well as footage of the staged moon landing, the television clips include shots of a presenter talking in a studio and an animated ‘ident’, and at the end of the film a large group of people joins the artist on the crater while the credits are displayed. A soundtrack plays throughout the work, comprising a mixture of voice recordings made during actual moon landings with pieces of instrumental music, which are largely produced using synthesizers and electronic keyboards and have a kitsch feel, sounding like ‘stock’ tracks that may feature in the background of television programmes.
This work was produced by the Swedish-American artist Aleksandra Mir in 1999. Mir first conceived of the video in response to an invitation by the non-profit organisation Casco Projects in March 1999 to produce a site-specific work in the Netherlands, and the subject for the film was inspired by the fact that 1999 saw the thirtieth anniversary of the first moon landing (see Mir, accessed 19 February 2015). The project had a budget of $2,000, but this was spent during the first full day of work in April, when Mir took out a half-page advertisement for the event in the magazine Artforum. The rest of the project therefore had to be undertaken by volunteers using loaned equipment and Mir spent almost four months building relationships and sourcing corporate support to enable the project to continue. Some of the still shots were taken using equipment provided by the camera manufacturer Victor Hasselblad AB, including a 35 mm panoramic camera of the same kind that the astronaut Neil Armstrong used during the first moon landing in 1969. Victor Hasselblad AB also provided the music and voice recordings, which were taken from promotional material surrounding the original event. In 2007 Mir wrote that she does not have a preference as to how the work is displayed except that the soundtrack should be played loudly in the exhibition space through speakers (see Aleksandra Mir, letter to Sarah Gavlak, Director of Gavlak Gallery (Los Angeles and Palm Beach), 27 January 2007, unpaginated, Tate Acquisition File).
Discussing this work in an interview in 2003, Mir stated that ‘It was a conscious way of trying to match the media reality of the Moon landings that only twelve people in the world have actually experienced. For everybody else, it’s become a mediated reality’ (Mir in Bollen 2003–4, accessed 19 February 2015). This is reflected through the use of television footage in the film, as well as frequent depictions of people using cameras to photograph and record the landing, which emphasise the role of mediation in representations of major events. In the same interview Mir claimed that her emphasis on publicity in First Woman on the Moon – an aspect of the work for which she was criticised in the press – involved a reflection on art’s relationship with the media, stating that ‘The art world’s spectacle-complex was brought out in the open’ (Mir in Bollen 2003–4, accessed 19 February 2015).
In 2007 Mir wrote that through her low budget, small-scale event, ‘The Bombastics of the original moon landing is played against my pathetic and feminine attempts’ (Mir 2007, unpaginated). While the word ‘pathetic’ could be understood as a pejorative term for her project, in 2003 Mir said that the work should be seen as ‘mocking all sorts of power’, suggesting that its ‘pathetic’ appearance was designed to parody the dramatic representation of space travel, which has sometimes functioned as a display of national strength (Mir in Bollen 2003–4, accessed 19 February 2015). In 2009 Mir also acknowledged that her performance of a woman landing on the moon for the first time could be seen as a feminist action, but that ‘the work is open-ended … I get all sorts of readings and that is my point, keeping the ball in the air.’ (Mir in Roberto Balò and Lorenzo Capanni, ‘Venice Biennale 2009: Interview with Aleksandra Mir’, AdgBlog, 28 May 2009, http://www.adgblog.it/2009/05/28/venice-biennale-2009-interview-with-aleksandra-mir/, accessed 19 February 2015.)
Aleksandra Mir, ‘First Woman on the Moon’, undated, http://www.aleksandramir.info/projects/first-woman-on-the-moon/, accessed 19 February 2015.
Will Bradley, ‘Life and Times’, Frieze, no.75, May 2003, pp.63–4.
Christopher Bollen, ‘Aleksandra Mir’, Believer, December 2003–January 2004, http://www.believermag.com/issues/200312/?read=interview_mir, accessed 19 February 2015.
Supported by Christie’s.