Imagine if, not long after Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon, Earth dispatched a colony of humans to build a utopia on a lunar surface far from our home planet.
The habitable moon, ostensibly discovered in the 1920s by an amateur astronomer in Astoria, Illinois, orbits a dwarf planet. Fifteen years have passed since the colonizers began their endeavor, and authorities on Earth have largely abandoned their grand scheme. The children who populated the bizarre society -- nicknamed "Project Astoria" -- have aged in a decaying land, surrounded by forgotten people and dilapidated structures. Instead of leaving for Earth, the young explorers set out across their uncharted environment, discovering abominable creatures and stunning crystal plant life.
This is all fiction, of course. It comes from the minds of Los Angeles-based Todd Baxter and Aubrey Videtto, a husband-and-wife duo that's brought a utopian-dystopian dreamscape to life in their "Project Astoria: Test 01" series. They've essentially created a universe out of thin air -- Todd digitally painted the strange scenes from various photographs, involving tapirs, modular homes and Wes Anderson-esque uniforms, and Aubrey later crafted the "guide" to their world.
"How was Astoria discovered?" they pondered after Todd imagined his first scenario, pictured above. "Can the colonists breathe the air, drink the water? What kind of flora and fauna exist there?" While some of these questions remain a mystery to the viewer, Todd eventually began incorporating more familiar bits of American history to shape and sculpt a broader narrative made from more and more imagery. For example, he drew inspiration from the first English colony in Roanoke -- the mysterious disappearance of which resulted in its nickname: “The Lost Colony.”
"The story behind the Roanoke colony is fascinating," Albuquerque-born Todd explains. "It’s really one of those times you can get caught up in a historical narrative. One of the key characters in the Project Astoria narrative is inspired by a young Lost Colony girl -- the first European born in the Americas –- Virginia Dare."
Of course, the Baxters' world also involves slightly more sci-fi conditions. In the Astoria System, an ambiguous species called "ubi" roams the moons. " In my mind, the Ubis are just animals, like a bear or a seal. They aren’t good or bad," Todd says, "they’re just doing their animal thing. Of course, they can prove dangerous, if you’re not a smart colonist, but most of the Ubis and colonists exist fairly peacefully in the same regions together."
A subset of that species is the Snow Ubi pictured below. These creatures, and the vibrant, futuristic uniforms of the settlers point, to an otherworldly landscape far removed from Roanoke.
"I remember being five or six years old, at the National Mall museums with my family... in the Air and Space Museum, walking through a replica of Skylab, the first US space station, and I knew my dad had worked on it as an engineer for the Space Program," Todd recounts.
"As I was walking through the exhibit, I saw these manikin astronauts in their uniforms inside of the space station doing different things. One of the guys was in a kitchenette area, just sitting there eating food. I remember observing this frozen moment of people living in space, the interior of a kitchen, food, and it really sinking in –- this is a real thing. People can live in space! To my kid brain, this was pure wonderment, pure magic."
Project Astoria has moved from one image to an entire selection of scenes sourced from the Baxters' ongoing exploration of make-believe and the not-so-distant future. The duo have contemplated bringing in other artists to collaborate on their burgeoning world, as well as turning the concept into a series of books or a film. For more on their project, check out Todd's website (and his other project, "Owl Scouts") and let us know your thoughts on their galactic aesthetic in the comments.