Since the beginning of civilization, the moon has mirrored and informed human beliefs, culture, and ways of seeing. Different cultures have their own historical, cosmological, ecological, or religious conceptions of the moon, ascribing diverse meanings to its changes in appearance. For example, the Mesoamerican Mayans were some of the most astute observers of the moon, scientifically studying its influence on harvests, fertility, and the tides. They plotted the phases of the moon and took advantage of those periods to fish or plant their fields with certain crops, customs that have been inherited and observed even today. [1]1
D. J. Schove, “Maya Correlations, Moon Ages and Astronomical Cycles,” Journal for the History of Astronomy 15, no. 1 (1984).
The moon has also played a key role in Islamic cultures, where the lunar calendar (consisting of twelve months of twenty-nine or thirty days) has created a culture of anticipation for sighting the crescent moon, culminating in Ramadan, when people fast and offer prayers. [2]2
Ayman Kordi, “The Psychological Effect on Sightings of the New Moon,” The Observatory, no. 123 (2003).
In modern-day Romania, the first lunar landing of 1969 made a lasting impression, and the National History Museum of Romania treasures a fragment of the moon’s surface and the Romanian flag that was carried to the moon and back on the Apollo 11 mission and later presented as a sign of friendship between the United States and the then-Socialist Republic of Romania.

A kind of etymological knot, the moon, the heavenly body that revolves around the earth in four-week cycles, draws its name from the Greek word for “month,” which at its Proto-Indo-European root references the moon’s phases as an ancient and universal measure of time. Even today, the “month” by which we structure our everyday life corresponds with the phases of the moon, while the first day of the workweek, “Monday,” comes from an Anglo Saxon word meaning “the moon’s day.” “Moonstruck,” the adjective coined by John Milton, originally referred to the condition of being affected in mind or health by the light of the moon and later acquired an association with love and romance. [3]3
“Moonstruck” first appears in a long list of ailments visited upon humanity in John Milton’s 1674 version of Paradise Lost.
Well into the nineteenth-century, astronomers inferred that the darker and lighter regions of the moon’s surface were, respectively, seas and the former continents, even suggesting that plants and even beings could inhabit the moon. [4]4
The 1846 textbook The Young Astronomer explains, “It is the general opinion of astronomers that the Moon is inhabited,” suggesting that life on the moon was a fact. John S. C. Abbott, The Young Astronomer, or The Facts Developed by Modern Astronomy, 1846. See .

Many moons ago, people believed that sleeping in moonlight caused blindness or triggered mental illness, a belief that considered the moon foreign or harmful. Today, however, we seek to draw the moon closer to our human existence. Determined by strong connections between science and capital and billionaires’ beliefs in the power of technology and innovation, the drive to colonize the moon is stronger than even in the days of geopolitical chest-puffing between the Soviet Union and the United States. While the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, put forward by the United Nations, stipulates that space belongs to no one country, there seem to be no laws about what resources beneath the lunar surface can be extracted and sold.

Starting from the question “What color should the moon be?,” we seek to reveal a constellation of approaches to art in context today and to consider art-making as a learning process. Our hypothetical project, as its name suggests, attempts to color earth’s moon, opening up a series of debates and questions related to the ethics, responsibilities, practicalities, funding, reception, interpretation, and sustainability of this project and others like it that interface art and the public.

In the framework of the MA POST at the Art Academy of Latvia in Riga, we created with students Madara Gruntmane, Alise Putniņa, Anna Malicka, Dzelde Mierkalne, Marta Viktorija Agruma, Krišjānis Elviks, Kintija Avena, and Agate Tūna, and with tutors Kaspars Groševs, Armands Zelčs, and Artis Ostups, a seminar-simulation in which an artist was commissioned to change the color of the moon. Next, we came up with a series of questions accompanied by videos and short texts that give insights into the importance of the issues raised by the commission and how these questions frame our perspectives on art-making.

A multitude of theoretical, practical, ethical, moral, economic, cultural, and political issues emerged from what may seem like a simple question about what color the moon really is or if it is just one color. During a trip to the Meteorite Museum in Riga, POST students and tutors were able to hold a piece of the moon in their own hands and observe its gray surface closely. However, during our seminar discussions, we discovered that there were different interpretations of the moon’s color, as our perception of it is mediated by atmospheric effects, geographical location, cultural beliefs, childhood influences, and more.

Long after the moon was first glimpsed through a telescope, it has become a historical object, a reflector of time, and a subject of continuous research and speculation. [5]5
British astronomer, mathematician, ethnographer and translator Thomas Harriot is credited as the first person to create drawings of his telescopic observations of the moon in 1609 and 1610. He also drew “Moon Maps” of what he believed to be the surface geography of the moon. Ian Sample, “Did an Englishman Beat Galileo to the First Moon Observation?” The Guardian, January 14, 2009 .
Through reflecting on the moon, often historically invisible or little-considered questions arise as we discover new myths, properties, and experiments. In other words, in our seminar-simulation, we can think of the idea of coloring the moon as a provocation of what is already apparent but remains unaddressed.

Artists are society’s explorers, and with highly cultivated consciousnesses, they can look through a crystal ball to the future and respond to the ethos and challenges of our present moment. Faced with the unlikely yet entirely technologically plausible commission of recoloring the moon, how would an artist go about it? In putting together this Classroom, we ourselves struggled to penetrate the meaning of such an endeavor for artistic practice.

Instead of coming up with definitive solutions, we offer questions, propositions, and commentary that unpacks some of the issues at stake when taking on such a monumental artistic commission. The moon is an image of power and, at the same time, a new frontier for power—a site of inward and outward pressures, of the struggle for autonomy and colonial control. What is the role of art and the artist in these configurations of power? Focused on a single initial hypothetical that can be deconstructed from different philosophical, practical, political, and social angles, we consider the importance of context in art and culture, as it is perceived through our and others’ speculations.

Kristaps Ancāns is a Latvian-British artist, writer, and educator whose practice spans installation, sculpture, language, and moving images. Ancāns explores the confusion in the relationship between humanity, nature, and machines through an evolving conceptual game with its own artificial intelligence. His installations—often containing a kinetic component—welcome questioning and invite uncertainty in their relationship with the viewer. Ancāns is the cohead of POST, an interdisciplinary MA program at the Art Academy of Latvia. He lives and works between London and Riga. After finishing a BA at Art Academy of Latvia, he graduated from Central Saint Martins, London, in 2016 with an MA in Fine Arts. Ancāns has been awarded the Cecil Lewis Sculpture Scholarship by University of the Arts London and received the Helen Scott Lidgett Studio Award 2016–17 from the Acme Studios’ Residency & Awards Programme, and has been nominated for a number of awards, including the Purvītis Prize (2019) and the Arts Foundation Fellowship (2018). 

Dr. Corina L. Apostol is a curator at the Tallinn Art Hall, curator and member of the steering committee of the international practice-based research project “Beyond Matter” (2019–2023), and the curator of the Estonian Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale (2022). She curated the Shelter Festival “Cosmopolitics, Comradeship, and the Commons,” at the Space for Free Arts in Helsinki (2019). She was the Mellon Fellow at Creative Time, where she coedited Making Another World Possible: 10 Creative Time Summits, 10 Global Issues, 100 Art Projects and cocurated the Creative Time Summit “On Archipelagoes and Other Imaginaries” (2018) in Miami. Corina holds a PhD from Rutgers University, where she was the Dodge Curatorial Fellow of Soviet Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union at the Zimmerli Art Museum. She is the cofounder of ArtLeaks, and editor-in-chief of the ArtLeaks Gazette. She was longlisted for the Kandinsky Prize (2016) and the Sergey Kuryokhin Prize (2020). She is the winner of the apexart 2022–23 exhibition proposals competition in New York.

POST is an interdisciplinary master’s specialization based on ideas of art in context. The program seeks to explore and examine how it is possible to study art today, while being simultaneously in Eastern Europe and Northern Europe, a region with different borders characterized by a changing environment and a rich experience regarding the forced use and collapse of global ideologies. Taking into account cultural, historical, and geopolitical contexts and the artistic processes attached to them, POST is located in an environment of unique experiences. The MA program can be perceived as an open study space for various ideas and experiments, moving along in the zigzagged relief of practice. The structure of this specialization consists of three blocks: Practice, Theory, and Context, with tutors whose backgrounds cover the fields of poetry, philosophy, graphic design, painting, sculpture, and music, as well as many other art and theory forms—Kristaps Ancāns, Corina Apostol, Ieva Astahovska, Atis Jākabsons, Artis Ostups, Jānis Ozoliņš, Kaspars Groševs, Kārlis Vērdiņš, Armands Zelčs, and Amanda Ziemele. Every two years, students from Latvia and abroad who have completed their bachelor’s degree and have a wide range of interests, skills, beliefs, and an indistinct view of the purpose of life are invited to apply to the program. The program seeks students who lack a portrait in a landscape, sound in still life, and movement on a pedestal.

Preview image: The World of Colorful Moons, 2022. Courtesy of Kristaps Ancāns and Corina L. Apostol.

Thank you!

An email with a confirmation link has been sent to the email address you entered. To complete your subscription, click this link.