By Jen Nugent
Sister Spaceship’s videos can be seen here:
“We’re not coming from anywhere;
not another planet – we just live on
There is something that Sister Spaceship is doing through what it is not doing. In their inaugural video performance works, the two characters of Sister Spaceship are positioned side-by-side in separate frames, in the cockpit of a spacecraft. They are talking to each other, fixing their spaceship, mixing cocktails, hosting a call-in radio program, giving advice, or sitting around. The two speak over one another (both in their videos and in live performance), they talk to themselves over audience members and guests, their audio is out of sync, and their tech is glitchy, their props just believable enough. There are moments totally steeped in shared cultural knowledge. There are instances of deliberate or strategic misinterpretations that point out absurd clichés and memes. Despite that, their performances feel totally fresh and unscripted. There is a constant misalignment throughout their work.2
Sister Spaceship seems consistently on the verge of revelation, but never quite at conclusion. This is perhaps what I find so important about the project – the practice of not really saying anything, mulling around in-betweens, sort of passively getting somewhere by way of spontaneity and imagination.3
The authorship in S.S. is ambiguous. Kristen Mills approaches the project with more serious intention, control, and planning. Angie Melchin is more reluctant to treat it as “Art” but says “We goof off and then come to something that actually says something about who we are as people, in the world.”4 Both are never quite sure if the collaboration has ended until someone resurrects it with an invitation to another engagement.5
That’s how the duo ended up in Delaware.
Sister Spaceship was recently curated into an exhibition at the Delaware Contemporary entitled “Show The People What They’ve Won.” S.S. shares the show with another Philadelphia-based artist (and friend), Jenny Drumgoole. Although their work is quite different, the sense of play and/or playfulness is so complimentary it practically bounces off the walls.
In this installation, S.S. allows the audience into a different part of their spacecraft, giving the museum iteration a more behind-the-scenes feel. This time S.S. performs in what they have set up as their office space/storage closet. During the opening reception, S.S. launches a live video stream on Facebook inviting live and virtual onlookers to ask them questions, as a way to participate in and poke fun at cultural obsessions with social media. Not surprisingly, many questions come from children in the audience. Also not a surprise, those were the most difficult to answer.6
In a featured video segment during their performance, Sister Spaceship reports from a sinkhole in Philadelphia.7 It’s a massive hole that swallowed an entire intersection in Fishtown earlier this year. S.S. interviews neighbors, speculates on possible explanations and solutions, and wanders around at the bottom of the hole. Part “man on the street” reporting, part afterschool special, with notes of anthropological investigations; positioning oneself so as to defamiliarize the familiar. An S.S. member told me recently, “We don’t know, we’re really just showing up, asking the people around – what happened here?” It’s a childlike approach that I think is indicative of S.S.’s dedication to silliness and curiosity as a valid and productive approach to gaining insight into the reality of structures, mechanisms, and institutions.
“I don’t really know a lot about plumbing, but I mean, what if you just put a big sheet of plexiglass on top of it? It’s pretty interesting to see how the city works. Or how it doesn’t.”8
Sister Spaceship’s laid back and seemingly oblivious-to-reality approach might be what prevents them from being mere commentators, or worse, artists trying to fix communities. They are invested locally, and I this is evident. 9
“Sometimes we sit around and ask each other “What do we care about?”10
Sister Spaceship is sort of a noncommittal guru.11
Jen Nugent is an artist based in Philadelphia. Nugent is also a Co-Director of Pilot Projects, an artist-run space in Philadelphia and is the Registrar at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts. Nugent’s work, is focused on researching and re-assembling connections and contact points of the the past and present. She works in sculpture, text, drawing, and collage – as a revisionist, archivist, time-traveler and scrapbooker. (www.jennugent.com or www.pilotprojectspilotprojects.com)
- Kristen Mills on Sister Spaceship, October, 2015.
- On Friday, October 2nd 2015, at approximately 7:30 pm EST Sister Spaceship landed at Practice Gallery, practicegallery.org, 319 North 11th Street, 2nd Floor, unit 2G, Philadelphia, PA 19107 S.S. opened the cockpit doors to the public for the month of October with a series of events including a live audience talk show, Q and A night, “Sister Spaceship does Antiques Roadshow,” and closing with a book signing. The show was part sketch comedy, part daytime talk show with notes of vox pop journalism, after school specials, artistic investigation, and low-fi amateur broadcasting. As public access talk show hosts, S.S. is sort of a provisional philosopher. They are funny, quick, and pretty dang entertaining.
- Kristen Mills on Sister Spaceship, October, 2015. “We live on a spacecraft – not a place, just existing, orbiting, just asking and existing.We don’t have a landing base, we don’t have a location, we don’t have a set anything. Sister Spaceship is loose and unspecific. We’re dealing with real life problems, but in this way that might seem like we have no idea what we’re talking about – but then, something is revealed… It’s this pretend place where we can question and poke at things, and sometimes we really hit on something and other times, we’re just being silly.”
- “I really don’t care, but, I mean, I care…” Angie Melchin, June, 2017
- Sister Spaceship tries not to address one another with names or gendered pronouns. They poke at stereotypes occasionally (see: Video in which one of S.S. dons a fake moustache before making repairs on the ship, among others). Despite their efforts, the two managed to offend an audience member during their live performance at Practice. The complainant, Lawrence, laughed it off but still joked that they needed a “trigger warning”. The incident was not hostile or dramatic, but it is noteworthy because it highlights Sister Spaceship’s evasive politics. Because they tend to skirt around and playfully muse on real life, potential revelatory experiences are lost – without groundwork, foundation, or a certain directness in their thesis, is the significance of Lawrence’s offense lost? I fully believe that the approach S.S. employs is productive at worst, revolutionary at best, but to me, this small, unscripted moment reveals the disadvantages in opaque intention (and contention).
- When asked (by an adult) during the S.S. performance at The Delaware Contemporary, “What places S.S. in the milieu of contemporary art?” S.S. responded “The answer is simple: Sister Spaceship aims to take the universal, and make it personal. Also, we like to point out absurd things, like that question.
- I’m paraphrasing Sister Spaceship brainstorming possible solutions while reporting in “The Sinkhole” – but seriously, wouldn’t it be so awesome if amateurs were asked to solve massive problems? If we all just decided to go around and try to fix everything? omg what an amazing mess. In Brandon Joyce’s essay, “A possibility analysis of Home Depot,” (IIIII Colums) the author explores the incredibly liberating practices within bricolage, collage, provisionality, workarounds, DIY experimentation, etc. through Home Depot’s controlled sales of “empowerment” (esp. slogan: “You can do it. We can help.”) Joyce postulates that it’s actually quite difficult, in fact subversive, to deviate from this commercially mandated experience. Playing, exploring, experimenting, with unspecified means and ends is in itself an action against structured experiences.
- S.S. reminds me of the importance of play and the revolutionary potential of boredom! As artists and humans looking around and having fun and asking things and making connections in a way that isn’t distracted is really important and sometimes (for some of us) really hard to do.
- Kristen Mills in a studio visit said something like: “We’re invested but oblivious to what’s going on. To focus on things that are actually important to us, we’ll ask ‘Well, what do we care about?’ ‘What’s on your mind?’ After The Sinkhole piece, we started researching about ghost tunnels and orphan pipes – ignored layers of holes, thousands of miles of shit. Now we’re actually looking into this but at the time we were just asking ‘What’s going on here?’… this leading to knowledge of the 2,000 plus sinkholes that happen in Philly every year, lost tunnels, orphan wells, and the city’s actual infrastructure.
- In S.S. studio visit with KM: “The idea of silliness I think is really important, the same way that humor can highlight something…you can reveal truths in another way. Silly is just as important, as intellectual as other things. re: David Letterman: Feeling silly is really important, irreverence – push the silly as hard as you can for people to take it seriously.