We found it on the 24th of July 2014, a pleasant summer day still before the heat waves became so ever present. A friend had just bought an old house and needed help with cleaning out the basement. A request we kindly agreed upon. Behind old furniture, empty bottles, stacks of paper and a bunch of other things some would call trash and others treasure, we encountered a metal capsule carrying the name of Dani O'Dean. We assume it was an astronaut, someone who seemed to have traveled space a number of times while keeping notes of missions and thoughts during these long periods of certain loneliness. We don’t know if the astronaut was male or female, but from the handwriting, thoughts and certain specific phrases, we are fairly confident we were looking at the belongings of a woman. From here on we will thus speak about the astronaut as a her. The last entry she wrote states she is leaving our planet for good. But what exactly she meant by that is still unclear. We doubt whether she intended the time capsule to be found this quickly. Since the amount of dust on the capsule was remarkably less than on the surrounding furniture, we suspect Dani visited the basement not that long ago. But even though the last entry dates only from august 2007, it was impossible for us to find out more about the astronaut. Her records and anything about the missions she wrote down seem to be untraceable. Since we did not find any other evidence of her existence, we can not know for sure that the name she used to sign her entries is in fact her real name. Though her last name might indicate Irish nationality, this would contradict some French texts we found. The images of Amaterasu, Goddess of the sun and the universe, might also indicate Japanese roots, we do not know… The documents we found are so varied it is hard to pin down her roots, both geographically, philosophically and disciplinary. There are booklets with calculations, plans with what appears to be a design for a spacecraft and books full of writings. Sometimes loose bits and pieces, sometimes extensive analyses of theories, sometimes personal contemplation, but always, it seems, filled with a sort of melancholy, a desire to something she might have lost, or never had. Though it was unclear who she was - or is - and where she came from, the moment we started going through her notes, it was clear she was looking for something, wandering, not knowing clearly where to go, but never losing hope that in the end she would end up somewhere.
“It is said that the more you are connected to your surroundings, the more freedom you have, because your relations, with things, animals, people, concepts… are what enable you to act. They give you knowledge, they give you direction, they give you physical possibilities you did not have before, they give you reason, they give, they give… But they also take little parts of you to extend their own functioning.”
One day, while philosophizing over the notes we found, we wondered whether it was possible to be connected to such a large extent you would disappear… living a life in bits and pieces. Would that be a nice thing to achieve? And would it be something you could do on purpose? To design your own disappearance? Was this Dani O’ Deans plan?
It appeared to us that Dani might have felt like she was both behind and ahead of time. It seems she could've lived a long time ago, without the distractions of nowadays technology and without even the slightest knowledge of space travel. She dreams about travelling back in time, where -in her imagination- all would be quiet. It seems that her awareness of the possibilities of traveling through space were most liberating and suffocating at the same time. Being aware of a space with no limits yet finding it impossible to reach a destination. Total freedom, but unending.
She imagined herself becoming one with space, orbiting around the planet from a distance, not unlike a satellite, following the same path over and over again in an endless loop. Watching, always watching, but from such a distance it all becomes irrelevant, playful even. Looking at life like a box of Lego's, where you could pick out the pieces you want, the colors you like. But it becomes impossible to affect life when you are floating above it. A thought she might have found reassuring:
“After all, we are made to believe that it is possible to organize our own life… All we have to do is pick up the catalogue of life and select the options that suit us: the job that matches our skills, the food that nourishes our body, the partner that complements us, the travels that complete us, the surgery that perfects us… society seems to be drenched in this neo-liberal idea that what we choose to be, we will be. But the advertisement for the toothpaste that will finally make your teeth as white as those you see in the movies slowly fades on the facade of the night shop where the Pakistani owner with an engineering degree sells alcohol to a depressed banker who just had another row with his wife.”
Life is not a Lego box, it’s a slimy blob. An amorphous sticky thing, getting entangled, losing bits and picking up others whether you want it or not. So these notes puzzled us a bit, it seems that Dani was well aware of this entanglement of life and respects it, but still she wanted to isolate herself, cut loose, fly off and float. In fact throughout all her notes we trace this ambivalence between wanting to stay close and stray off, connect and disconnect, cherish the small and hunt for the big, remaining silent and screaming loud…
Why we were attracted to the notes and the life of Dani O' Dean, and why she now inspires us to make work in honor of her existence, might be in fact these recognizable struggles and her fascination and viewpoint on life, time, biology and space, all strangled together. A fascination so contagious, it now also grows within us. While she never had the intention to design or create a single piece of art, her thinking and level of imagination surely encourages us in a way nothing ever did before. In her, we found the ultimate and ongoing source of inspiration. The seemingly endless endeavors to capture the world in all its complexity and her modesty throughout this search inspire us to continue her quest and take up some of the questions she worked on.