…on second thoughts, there’s no need to play some kind of clever metafictional game to get to the idea of the Voyager images as a kind of weird conceptual artwork.
Of course it’s an artwork. On Mundane SF principles, the chances of the ostensible audience, “aliens”, ever finding it and understanding it, is negligible; even if this were to happen, the chances of us finding out that it did are still more remote.
So: we are the only audience. Sending the golden record into space was a ritual act, a piece of science fiction performance, especially the laborious initial sequence of images which is intended to teach the hypothetical alien recipients a basic grammar of physical and mathematical concepts. Ostensibly, it’s us telling the aliens “we are here”: really, it’s us telling ourselves “we are here, and here is how we want them to see us”.
Is it legit to impute artistic motives to a project like this? It feels like the complement, or the inverse, of “outsider art” – taking an activity which may mean something quite different to its creator and framing it as art.
In what sense was the space program an artwork? What about the pyramids?