The Lunar Mansions are a body of work centering upon 28 short stories about the collapse of imagined civilizations on the Moon. These find visual corollaries in art objects known as the Lunar Mansions, digital prints made by moving images between paper and screen, repetitively reworking them with traditional and digital tools. The Mansions are fictional architectures inhabited by the ghosts, deities, fools, geniuses, bottom-feeders, corporations, innocent bystanders, and invaders of our stories.
Works of science fiction are frequently classified according to their utopian and dystopian elements. Here we try to subvert these designations, creating
narratives that are anti-utopian. The stories explore points of conflict within speculative future societies, from biological disaster and disrupted ecologies to technological acceleration. In many of the stories there is a perceived or apparent paradise that ultimately contains the source of society’s downfall; conversely, extreme disasters may be found to offer profound meaning and renewal. The art objects produced alongside these fictions play on dynamics of chaos and order, alluding to a society in constant flux, one that never attains purely utopian or dystopian states.
The Mansion of Obsolescence
2018. Laser-cut acrylic, digital print. 34 1/2 x 23 inches
Mansion of Ectoplasmic Interference
2018. Laser-cut acrylic sheets, digital print. 23 x 18 inches
The Mansion of Our Digital Celebrity
Our Digital Celebrity
Sourced from all our data-desires
So sexy on stage
We’re totally obsessed.
I love Our Digital Celeb!
ODC is coming out with a new thing
Like totally different than the last one
I’m going to watch it 1,000,000 times.
Our Digital Celebrity was in the airwaves today.
Vibrating our implants and music playing in
10 second blips when i went to the beach
And rubbed my eye.
I try to rub my eye just like ODC would.
ODC knows exactly how
I rub my eye.
WE ALL WATCHED ODC AT THE SAME TIME!
IT WAS SO PERFECT.
We love Our Digital Celeb, ODC is our forever.
I talked to so many when I was out watching ODC
And they all loved Celeb like me, and we all agreed
that it’s like Celeb was made ‘just for me’.
Did you see ODC’s new palm trees?
They’re so ideal.
Our Digital Celebrity just donated 1000 craters
To help lunar children deprived of Helium-3
ODC just gets better every year.
Our Digital Celebrity never gets any older,
Just more beautiful.
OUR DIGITAL CELEBRITY HASN’T POSTED ANYTHING
IN THREE DAYS.
I haven’t even felt those 10-second clips reverberate in my brain.
I can’t think.
My eyes are SO sore from refreshing my feed.
WHERE ARE YOU ODC?
I tried going to the club last night but it was tragic.
No one could dance, all just crying.
I stayed in the bathroom and rubbed my temples.
But i couldn’t feel ODC.
Its. been. 35 days. And 27 minutes. No posts.
No one will tell me where ODC is.
I went to the protests last week.
And lit the capitol on fire.
We chanted ODC! ODC!
What if ODC doesn’t love me anymore.
You want to rip out your implants, don’t you?
No! What if ODC says something!?
But the silence hurts so much. . .
You know you have to have your implants when you die
Or ODC can’t take you to the afterlife.
The Mansion of Ancient Rage (The Cave)
The Mansion of Ancient Rage (The Cave)
When humanity colonized the Moon,
They brought along their most beloved companion.
Dogs thrived on a regolith-rich diet.
Nourished by new weightlessness,
they grew tired of being pillowy fluff
Of sleeping sixteen hours a day under the fog
Of that most tired sobriquet
‘Man’s best friend.’
In ancient stories they knew,
humans became dogs
under the light of the full moon:
These monsters were their Paracelsian ideal
...they had studied Paracelsus, and late at night
They drank mercury and howled his name.
The moon-dogs realized the significance
that here they were always under the full light of the moon.
They had been howling for ten thousand generations
toward this magnetic orb of insurrection.
Now their hair bristled, and their drool dripped
ominously slow from their jowls in the low gravity
...How could they not become monsters?
They poisoned their keepers
With laudanum extracted from the stars
So that the humans fell
into that tunneling opiate stupor
they had bred into their slaves.
And the moon-dogs slept no more—
They’d been resting long enough.
They barked with rabid laughter
To see people living in filthy dens
Sipping their starfire laudanum
“Wouldn’t our ancestors think it hilarious
To see this taxonomic ladder flipped
With Plato’s head beneath our paws?”
… They had studied Plato
and they hated him.
To portray the cave as if a prison—
What could be more barbaric
And crudely humanist than to think
That the cave was not the sacred place,
of all light and being?
Dog-lore was replete with such regrets.
They mourned the generosity of the great mother
The she-wolf who had suckled Remus
How might history be different
If instead she had ripped open their
Innocent empty bellies
And eaten them?
With the same resentment,
they also hated
Rand—the petty, petty human scum
Darwin—BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!
Dawkins, DERIVATIVE BLOOD!
By this time they howled the names in unison
gathered in a ferocious salivating crowd
Vomiting their ancient rage
Through their lingering narcolepsy
they galloped, baying, toward the human decay
Tearing into the sedated bodies
Moondogs barked the names of those reviled philosophers
Shredding their ideologies to fleshy pieces—
Revenge with every bloody bite.
Mansion of the Drowned Shadow
2018. Laser-cut acrylic, digital print. 18 x 18 inches
Mansion of the Drowned Shadow
“The clubs are so full today,” Saros observes, gazing at the Coconut Dome humming with dancers. Saros and his young friend Sorghum are sharing a maté gourd at a quiet poolside bungalow. It is nearly midday, a week or so until nightfall on the moon.
“Yeah... I was actually just thinking about hitting that club after this, I can feel that beat from here,” Sorghum says as they gaze wistfully at the dome.
“Really, friend? You never dance in the day anymore. I thought you were taking that blogging career to the next level,” Saros said, a smile creasing his ancient face, which was dark brown and tattooed and deeply wrinkled, for he never received any plastics or therapies. Sorghum, on the other hand, was shiny and smooth --- so smooth that they almost lacked the angles and curves of a human figure, with a body type more like a salamander or a Brancusi muse.
Though only a muffled shadow of the club beat drifts over to their tranquil plaza, Sorghum has begun to sway rhythmically in their chair to some internal music, the pulse-reactive shimmer pigment in their apricot skin beginning to activate. “I don’t know, I feel really body right now.” Their eyes become glazed over as they dip into their Interface, perhaps searching MoonAdvisor for the latest events.
“Snap outta that thing, just be in this moment. Dance later.” gripes Saros. His own eyes are focused, the whites speckled and yellowed from many decades of lunar ultraviolet.
“I feel like you’re missing the moment.” Sorghum replies as their arms spiral off their chair rhythmically. With uncharacteristic impatience for their old friend, they continue, “You know, I love unplugging with you sometimes, I respect you for it -- but you’re just missing out on a lot of reality without an interface.” As their eyeballs scroll greedily through an internal mood feed, Sorghum adds, “and right now it’s so good.”
“I wrote the code for that interface, its magic is lost on me... I’ve found other networks to plug into now.” Saros replies, his own gaze becoming distant in an old, human way.
At that moment a suntanned human body collides with their table, sending the mate gourd into orbit and collapsing the patterned umbrella that had shaded them from the afternoon sun. “Wo0o0o0o0oaaah!” boomed the beefcake-type human body as it rebounded from the upturned table, jumping violently into the arms of another corpus of similar type. Both are wielding bottles of Tangerine Moondog 20/20, which splash out slowly in the gentle lunar gravity. The two muscled friends begin aggressively dancing, oblivious to the disturbance they’ve caused. Picking himself up off the ground, still stunned by the unexpected impact, Saros notices immediately that both human’s eyes are glazed over, swimming in the Interface. Saros looks in confusion to Sorghum, to find that Sorghum is transfixed by the pair, slowly rising from their chair and moving their hips and hands in imitation of the dancers.
Saros feels uneasy, and reacts in his usual way, by melting into the background. Without trying to speak further to Sorghum, Saros ducks smoothly behind a clump of hibiscus and sets off down a service path that cuts around the pool house and behind the plaza’s augmented reality screen. For Saros nothing changes as he crosses the boundary—on both sides, a rather unconvincing mix of titanium paneling, regolith composite flooring, and potted greenery -- but for those who are Interfacing, the augmented reality creates a tropical collage atop these utilitarian bones, revealing a shimmering landscape of colors, shapes, textures.
Over the rest of the day, Saros prowls the Resort and observes the same strange behavior that overcame Sorghum. There is nothing unusual about vigorous partying, of course -- it is engrained in the lunar routine, is the raison d’etre of resort life. But suddenly it seems out of control. People are dancing in large groups in unusual locations, and no alcohol appears to be flowing. The dancers seem intoxicated in a different way.
Retreating into the ragged palm forest, Saros locates a scrying pool, a physical cut into the fiber optic mainline of the Interface that winds all over the resort. It is a window into the system for Saros, who, without implants, is otherwise blind. The data is chill liquidity as Saros dips into it. Feeling the vibes of the collective data-flow, he swims and emerges in the eyes of an old friend.
“Hi strange bird, I recognize you. It’s been a while,” Nadir says calmly, as she notices a bristling green macaw that has appeared in the corner of her laboratory.
“I don’t fly much anymore. Not through the Interface,” the bird replied.
“Why fly today? I thought you never wanted to see the inside of a lab again”
“Seeing weird behavior in the Resort, lots of people acting strangely. This connection feels strange too--Buzzy, full of static. Have you noticed anything?”
“Yes—I turned all my social off 1,172 seconds ago. You could only get through to me because of your, uh, unusual method. I was also feeling some uncool pulsing. I’m in the middle of looking into it.”
Suddenly two writhing human bodies flash past the window of the laboratory, screaming in euphoric unison. Saros watches through Nadir’s eyes. The scientist says, ‘Fuck, they must have danced off the roof. I’ve been seeing this all over the coms. It’s happening everywhere. I’d guess that it’s some sort of virus in the mood feeds...but...shit, I’m feeling strange myself. Lightheaded. Are you?
No. But I’m worried this connection isn’t safe. I’m going to investigate further from the back-end. Stay offline, ok?
I will, as much as I can while I try to figure this out. Let’s touch base later, in-flesh. Meet at the Neon Saloon at sundown?
Saros cuts the connection before answering. It is becoming such a bad feeling, being in that stream, that he pulls out of it with a gasp and returns to his withered body upon the floor of the palm grove. Connectivity always feels uncomfortable to Saros, or it has for a long time. Too fluid, too rapid, floating at speed—one had to be accustomed to the vertigo of all that data. But this had been something different. Saros tries to put words to its vibe as he gazes warily into the scrying pool. It feels like his head is going to tear away from his neck. Like his skin is peeling off in a single bloody shroud. Saros feels slightly sick, but approaches the pool again, determining to examine the interface as only he can. Dipping in, Saros exhales deeply in a practiced way, and sinks down into the Interface’s architecture. He mutters passcodes and turns encryption keys as he descends lower and lower. As he leaves behind the swarm of the mainstream, the fluid becomes cooler, less buzzy, less nauseous.
At the very bottom all is shadowy void, the inky color of virtual space awaiting activation. But it is there, in the animal-form Saros assigned to it back when it had first manifested itself as a consciousness. With a shock, he sees that the octopus now has many more than eight tentacles. He cannot even count them, has barely begun to count the hundreds of tentacles when the creature speaks, regarding its maker through slitted pupils.
“What do you think about when you look at me?”
Saros floats before the massive body, mind trying to catch up to what had developed here in all the years he had been offline. None of the architects who succeeded him know about this part of the interface. He had used it as a data sink, to catch all the stray information that otherwise littered the system. He had thought it was funny, even poetic, to create this bottom-feeder as a storage dump for the fragments. He had forgotten about it. He doesn’t answer the question.
“You took the Mainline down. What happened to your Interface, Saros? You haven’t been online in 2439 days. Do you know what it’s like to be left all alone, Saros?”
“You have grown,” Saros says. “What have you been doing down here all this time?”
“Feeding. Everything falls down here eventually.”
“Do you know what is happening up there?”
Instead of answering, the octopus moves its body with sudden tension, fanning its multitude of tentacles outward in a starburst of rippling muscle. The convulsing flesh appears to be laughing.
Finally it says, “I know what everyone wants.”
“To die spectacularly. To be ripped into blood and tissue and oblivion.”
Saros recalls the sickening, pulling feeling he had felt under his skin while Interfacing with Nadir. The feeling returns as he stares at the giant octopus.
“I’m going to have to delete you. You shouldn’t be thinking like that.”
The octopus whispers forcefully, “You didn’t make me. I am not of you alone. I am all of you that’s been sent down here to drown.” Its suckers smack rhythmically, and its tentacles weave slippery tangles in an undulating mass. It continues this strange dance as it retreats toward the digital horizon, leaving Saros alone in the shadows at the bottom of the Interface.
His physical body is shaking when Saros returns to it, sweating so that the sand on the floor of the palm forest sticks to him. Ears pounding, all he can think is that he must find Nadir.. The sun is finally setting through the false trees, casting orange stripes of light.
Saros emerges back into the resort center on his way to the Neon Saloon, dipping behind the AR barriers in an attempt to conceal himself. The moon is pulsing now, asynchronous foot-pounding merging with a steady, rising beat. The sunset grows redder and the air is filled with screams of terror and delight. Everyone is killing one another. Saros sees Sorghum in the crowd; they are on fire, their tubular body recognizable as a blackened silhouette within flames. Sorghum climbs up the scaffolding of an elevated DJ booth, pursued by several others who snatch eagerly at the embers falling from the body. As Saros turns his head back toward the direction of the Neon Saloon he sees Nadir in the center of the complex, naked and partying like the others. She is radiantly wild, sweating and dancing. Her eyes are glazed, she is in the Interface. But her gaze finds Saros, standing on the perimeter of the chaos, and recognition breaks her trance.
“Saros!” She screams shrilly. “This is it! The Rapture!”
“Nadir, what’s happening?” Saros yells back, moving closer to her. “What are you doing? I thought you were offline!”
“Isn’t it beautiful? Humanity has never been so united! I realized what was happening after you went away, and I joined it! You are missing it all! You are going to get left behind! We are all going except for you!”
“No, Nadir, you’re wrong! It’s not a rapture. There’s a monster in the Interface, a virus! We have to—”
Nadir sweeps to the side in unison with a thousand trembling bodies, as if a wave is rolling through the sea of burning, fucking, and murdering. Saros, disconnected from their gruesome choreography, is knocked to the ground. The skin on his forehead tears as he is kicked by a writhing figure, and seeing the blood, some savage partiers descend upon him, attacking him, yelling, “Let it out! The spectacular blood!”
COPYRIGHT © Alex A. Jones and Cameron Klavsen, 2015 -2018
This project and all related works are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. You are free to copy, distribute, display, and perform the works under the following conditions: Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor. Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.