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With a Focus on Art and Climate Activism, a Space Station Lands on the Back Side of Aspen Mountain

Kirsten Dobroth/Aspen Public Radio News
Aspen artist Ajax Axe built a series of art installations based on renderings of futuristic space architecture for the Aspen Space Station on Midnight Mine Road.

A new art exhibition has popped up in the woods on Midnight Mine Road on the back side of Aspen Mountain. The Aspen Space Station was started by a group of local artists as a launchpad for art and community discussion regarding climate change.

Kirsten Dobroth/Aspen Public Radio
Newly sworn in Aspenauts completing an earth appreciation mission at the Aspen Space Station. Mission Commander Ajax Axe says the site will hold events throughout the fall.

Wildfire smoke has blanketed the West this summer, exacerbated in part by record heat waves across the region. Climate scientists are attributing much of that to the intensifying impacts of climate change; at the same time, a number of billionaires have blasted off into space this summer — ushering in a new era of commercial space travel and a discussion about multiplanetary human settlement someday. The artists involved in the Aspen Space Station say part of their goal is to remind people how good they have it here on Earth.

“I think the real issue is how do we have a conversation about the future and point out these incredibly challenging issues that we need to handle right now without being apocalyptic?” said Ajax Axe.

Axe is the station’s commander and director of Earth force climate command and space station construction. She has lived on the plot of land on Midnight Mine Road where the space station has sat for nearly a decade. Over the years, her sculptures have appeared in local galleries, and she wrote, co-directed and produced "Freak Power: The Ballot or the Bomb," a documentary about Hunter S. Thompson’s run for sheriff in 1970.

For the Aspen Space Station site launch, Axe built futuristic tower installations — riffing on fantastical renderings of space architecture — that rise from beds of wildflowers, as well as a “black hole simulator” made of mirrors affixed to aspens. Signs hang from trees reminding visitors that “Earth Is Sexier Than Mars.”

Work by Lara Whitley and Chris Erickson runs alongside a creek that trickles through the property, and burned-wood sculptures by local artist Wally Graham are also part of the exhibition. Former Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancer Jenelle Figgins is the station’s movement commander, and there’s even a space station song called "E.T. Strikes Back" by Pop Abattoir.

Kirsten Dobroth/Aspen Public Radio
Local artist Lara Whitley lays flowers in a mandala pattern at one of the Aspen Space Station's art installations.

“The artists who are involved in this project are all artists who have a background of talking about environmental issues and working on environmental issues,” said Axe.

The group plans to hold events throughout the fall that combine art and activism to combat climate change. Arts and culture reporter Kirsten Dobroth joined Axe and a new crop of Aspenauts at the space station for a rainy evening of Earth appreciation, and sent this audio postcard.