3 March 2018

(2017 – 2020)

Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun was a man with star dust in his eyes and blood on his hands.

In his last thirty years he was an American citizen who built rockets for NASA, machines which landed men on the moon in 1969. He met with John F. Kennedy, and was the recipient of plaudits and accolades too numerous to list. But in his first thirty years he was a German citizen, who wore an SS uniform and built ballistic missiles for the military of Nazi Germany, machines which killed thousands of civilians between 1944 and 1945. He met with Adolf Hitler, and was the recipient of plaudits and accolades too numerous to list.

Wv.B uses this improbable life story as a way to explore the equally contradictory history of space exploration, and the way that militaristic and expansionist aims have often been dressed in a cloak of peaceful civilian science. To do this I draw on a mixture of photographs made during visits to key rocket development sites in Germany and the United States, some now historic monuments, others very much forgotten. Alongside these images I assemble further photographs, documents and other materials from a variety of government and scientific archives. These pieces are then printed as cyanotypes, the earliest form of photography and originally intended for astronomical photography, the cyanotype process was used throughout the 20th century to produce engineering and architectural blueprints. Latent within the cyanotype’s chemistry are also the components of hydrogen cyanide, the gas used in the systematic extermination of at least one million people during the holocaust.

These materials are arranged into an unconventional narrative structure, in which times flows forwards and backward simultaneously, in order to draw together the two contradictory lives of Wernher von Braun together in contrast against each other. Pre-war and post-war lives are juxtaposed, and in doing so the problematic histories, moral ambiguities, and Faustian pacts of von Braun’s life, and of space exploration in general, are laid bare.

-Shortlisted for the LUMA Rencontres Dummy Book Award 2018 and 2020, The Kassel book award 2019, and the Aftermath Grant 2018.

View the Wv.B dummy