Curators (from left) Thea Baumann, Jeff Khan, Susan Cohn, Brian Ritchie and Willoh S. Weiland are working on a new version of the Voyager Golden Record.
It's one hell of a brief: create an audio or video art work that represents humanity now - and which will be immortalised forever - in just one minute.
This is the challenge Willoh S. Weiland, artistic director of art collective Aphids, has laid down for the world's artists in the ambitious Forever Now project.
Inspired by and partly in response to the Voyager Golden Record sent into space in NASA in 1977 aboard the Voyager probe, intended to represent humanity to any extraterrestrial life that might find it, Forever Now aims to send a new record into space, with 44 one-minute works from artists, and 44 from public submissions, interpreting the question ''What is humanity now?''
The Voyager Golden Record.
''It is a really hard brief; it's confronting, the idea of your own permanence,'' says Weiland, for whom it is the final work in a trilogy dealing with outer space.
First up was Yelling At Stars, in which she recorded a ''letter'' that was filmed, streamed online and transmitted to outer space by Deep Space Communications, in Florida, followed by a six-month residency in the department of astrophysics and supercomputing at Swinburne University.
''I became interested in how an artist responds to the question of making a work that will last forever, for, say, a billion years, and how simultaneously to speak from this current historical moment,'' Weiland explains.
Weiland has assembled a team of curators for the project: former Violent Femmes bassist and MONA FOMA curator Brian Ritchie; co-director of Sydney's Performance Space Jeff Khan; Aphids artistic associate Thea Baumann; and jeweller Susan Cohn, who will make the record from real gold to ensure it lasts roughly ''4 billion years''.
The original Voyager Record, curated by Carl Sagan and his partner Ann Druyan, contained 117 pictures ''explaining'' Earth, greetings in 54 languages, ''greetings'' from humpback whales and a selection of other sounds and music. It was, says Weiland, very much of its time. ''There's a lot of Bach and music from the Western canon. The indigenous content is beautiful but a very ethnographic and almost empirical collection of the other,'' she says. ''There's no women composers and hardly any women really represented at all. It's a very hetero-normative representation of sexuality.''
On the cover of the record there's a code that attempts to explain its origins to anyone who finds it, with an image of a man and a woman, which caused minor controversy at the time when it came to the question of whether to render them anatomically correctly.
''There was a huge outcry that NASA was sending pornography into space and it almost shut down the project,'' says Weiland. ''They ended up with non-anatomically correct figures - the woman has no genitals and is slightly behind the man … it's interesting to think how we'd be interpreted on the basis of that information, which is clearly false.''
Weiland and the Forever Now team spread word around the world in order to create a work that embodies humanity at large, and asking artists to be its ambassadors.
''I think it's working,'' she says. ''The brief is really about artists making contemporary art, so the real distinction from the original record is, we don't want it to be a kind of ethnographic representation of all these different cultures but at the same time it's really important that it is not just art of the West, something that's really prevalent on the original.''
Six months before submissions close, Weiland has had entries from India, Romania, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, and Australia.
''I'm really excited by the breadth,'' she says. ''We've always said it would be bad if this project just ended up being a lot of video art from Northcote.''
The Forever Now team will give ''performance lectures'' on the project at MONA in Hobart ''to keep the conversation going'' to be held in a space shuttle amusement ride specifically brought in for this month's MOFO festival.
While the submissions keep coming (they close in June), Weiland and the team will work on the finer points of how to launch their golden record into space, to happen at a secret location in January 2015.
''We're still not sure yet how the physical record will get there. We're actually making three records - one we'd like to stay on Earth, at MONA, for the second we're pursuing Virgin Galactic and a series of astronauts who each get an individual payload to take to space, and the third we'd like to gift to NASA to take to one of the original creators of Voyager.''
Then there's the challenge of creating a code to ensure that if the record is found, its finder will know what to do with it.
''Susan and I are working with a mathematician to develop a code. One great question is: how do we encode the idea of altruism, or the idea of a gift? And, unlike the Voyager Record, we want them to also know it's art.''
There's also, of course, the possibility that it might be considered merely a piece of space junk. ''We've pondered that,'' says Weiland. ''And it'll still be fine with us if someone ends up wearing it as an earring.''
Follow the project at forevernow.me