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The Pastel from Mars ∙ A&A Haley Lecture

Jennifer Roberts, Harvard University

Wed, 5/1 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · A71 Louis A. Simpson Building

Department of Art & Archaeology

In 1965, NASA’s Mariner 4 probe executed its historic flyby of Mars, capturing the first images ever sent back to Earth from another planet. The numerical image data was transmitted to teletype machines at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, but it would take hours for the computers to convert the data into viewable television images. The engineers at JPL didn’t want to wait that long, so they stapled the strips to the wall, bought a box of pastels from a local art store, and rendered the image by hand, color-by-number style. It’s hard to imagine an image more thoroughly beset by anachronism. A first glimpse of an alien world, enabled by advanced twentieth-century technology, comes into being in pastel—a medium most closely associated with eighteenth-century French portraiture. But perhaps this eccentric pastel drawing, in its very anachronism, can teach us to look anew at the project of visual representation both on- and off-Earth.

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