Lauded by The Evening Standard as a much-needed “eccentric lateral thinker”, Ben Moore is an artist and curator who has expanded his highly successful public art projects from London to cities around the world including Berlin, LA and Tokyo. His latest initiative, One Small Step, has seen Moore invite a host of famous artists to embellish reproductions of the iconic astronaut helmet. Inspired by the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing and organised in support of MAG – the Mines Advisory Group – the helmets were exhibited in London at The Other Art Fair’s King’s Cross summer fair, and at Gallery 286 in Earl’s Court, before being auctioned on Paddle8 in July. 

One Small Step follows on from Moore’s Art Wars series, which started in 2013 and to date has seen over 50 artists leave their mark on the equally iconic Star Wars Stormtrooper helmet. With One Small Step, though, Moore says that getting hold of the astronaut helmets in the first place proved a little more difficult. “The helmets” Moore explains, “were the biggest hurdle. Astronaut helmets are really difficult to come by. You can’t buy an authentic one online. Only twelve men have gone to the moon, so there aren’t many helmets floating about. It’s not like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got a helmet in my loft!’”

The lack of an available hoard of helmets meant Moore reached the point where he even challenged his son’s school class to make them. Thankfully though, Moore’s friend, the artist and prop designer Schoony, proved just the right man to know. With a background in film prosthetics and special effects, Moore says Schoony is “truly a pioneer in being able to produce any object that you ask him to make, at any scale. So I approached him and said, ‘how do I do this?’ And he said, ‘you have to 3D print the first one. Find the helmet you want and have it 3D printed and from that you can make moulds to make more.’ And that’s exactly what we did. It took ten days to print. A lot of thanks goes to Schoony for his involvement.”

Helmets made, Moore brought on board artists including Mr. Brainwash, Chris Levine and Joana Vasconcelos, as well as Schoony, to transform them into unique artworks. The results are enjoyably eclectic, from Hayden Kays’ simple yet clever text-based approach (“ON THE FRONT IS THE TRUTH” – “ON THE BACK IS A LIE”) to Vasconcelos’ floral explosion and Schoony’s boxing-ready ‘Astro-bruiser’. Taken together, they certainly succeed in making us look afresh at the oddly oversized helmets that hark back to those worn by divers, but that can also be reminiscent of an eye ball or convex tv screen.

Joana Vasconcelos holding her helmet

Utilising art as a vehicle to support different charities is something that Moore has been heavily involved with for a number of years. In 2003, Moore’s brother Tom went missing and has still not been found. The last known sign of Tom was at a cashpoint in Ancona, Italy in July that year. Moore has dedicated much time since then to finding Tom and has organised art projects in support of the Missing Tom Fund, established by Moore and his family, as well as the charity Missing People. Moore has been recording a film about the search for Tom that he says he’ll continue to make until they find his brother, or he finds them. His engagement with charitable causes, though, has also extended to supporting the British Legion and their Poppy Appeal – inspired by the fact that his father was a  Royal Marine – as well as working with Macmillan Cancer Support. 

Like most of his charitable projects, with One Small Step Moore was keen to support a charity that fitted with the concept for the artwork. “I was doing a lot of work with different charities like Missing People and Macmillan” says Moore “and I had a few ideas floating about and I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got this astronaut helmet idea, which charity is most suitable?’ And there’s a really good guy at MAG called James Hay who I really got on well with, he’s got a very creative mind. We were actually doing another project originally where I was giving artists IPhones to make pieces of art and he said, ‘what else are you working on?’ and I said, ‘well I’ve got this other thing coming up, it’s the 50th anniversary of the moon landing…’ and he said ‘that would be perfect’. And through that we sculpted the concept for One Small Step. Everyone said, ‘what has astronaut helmets got to do with land mines?’ And of course One Small Step is a beautiful bridge. I’m very thankful to the charity for taking a leap of faith and saying, ‘OK, let’s do it and make it happen.’”

The way One Small Step riffs on differing perspectives of the 1969 moon landing is key to Moore’s thinking around the project. Beyond the iconography of the astronaut helmet, he’s intrigued by the cultural phenomenon of the moon landing and the ongoing controversy of whether it was all one big fake. “What I find fascinating about the moon landings” he explains, “is there’s a lot of doubt, the mystery of it, did it really happen? In a way, what I’m celebrating is not necessarily the truth of whether or not it happened but I’m celebrating either the truth or the hoax. It doesn’t matter, it’s celebrating the fact that either man did walk on the moon or man tricked man into believing that man walked on the moon. But it’s something that is a really fascinating question to ask because it’s so huge, if it is a lie it’s such a massive one to make, and it’s quite plausible that man hasn’t got on the moon and it’s really weird that we can never really fully know. It’s bizarre. I’m 50:50. 50 yes, 50 no. But what a strange story! And that’s the mystery of the moon.”

Linked to One Small Step, Moore has been acting out a performance piece wearing a full astronaut suit – complete with helmet – and making evocative appearances at locations including The Other Art Fair in King’s Cross, the One Small Step exhibition opening at Gallery 286, and a couple of iconic British landmarks. Moore’s astronaut was first seen in public for the summer solstice at Stonehenge, after a last minute dash west from London, followed by an extended appearance at Glastonbury. As Moore describes it, he “lurked around Glastonbury as an astronaut for three or four days.” He says the early morning was the best time, with the light from the rising sun combined with the fact that “everyone’s a bit frazzled – and then all of a sudden there’s this white astronaut!” Next time, though, Moore says the astronaut will be pink. “That’s gonna be my next bold moment with the astronaut” he adds, “that’s the thing that’s going to separate it from all other astronauts – there’s plenty of white astronauts, there’s only going to be one pink one and that’s my one.”

Along with the possibility of spotting a looming figure in pink, there will also be more to come from One Small Step: Moore is taking the project to LA in September, working with California-based artists, and has the possibility of a rather special Anish Kapoor astronaut helmet waiting in the wings. Like the moon landing it celebrates – truth or lie – One Small Step is leaping forward, and will hopefully boost the vital work MAG does in helping clear our own world of the horror of landmines, cluster munitions and unexploded bombs.

Article by Richard Unwin

All images courtesy of Ben Moore