Barbican assistant curator Laura Clarke introduces some of the artists in our summer exhibition exploring science fiction’s new territories, lost worlds, cosmic possibilities and virtual universes.
While enjoying increasing recognition in recent decades through popular Hollywood franchises including Star Wars™, Alien and Star Trek, science fiction also has a cult following that long predates this. The timeline of the many ways in which the genre has influenced visual culture are explored in this exhibition, which encompasses everything from Ray Harryhausen’s pioneering dinosaur models, Soviet-era technological magazines, to 1940s advertisements depicting ‘the world of tomorrow’ and rare Japanese toy robots.
We examine how visions of the future found their form in architectural practices of the mid-late 20th century. Architect Kisho Kurokawa (1934-2007), one of the founding members of the Japanese Metabolist movement, produced a series of radical proposals for rethinking urban structures. He rejected the western binaries of inside/outside and nature/technology, proposing more dynamic models to better suit the ever-changing nature of contemporary urban life. Drawings from Kurokawa’s 1961 ‘Helix City’ project depict organic structures based on DNA chromosomes populated by residential buildings; an architectural idea reimagined for contemporary Tokyo in artist Pierre-Jean Giloux’s video Invisible Cities # Part 1 # Metabolism (2015).
In contemporary art, science fiction provides a visual language from which familiar tropes enable a multitude of political positions and possibilities to be communicated. Artist duo Soda_Jerk’s video installation Astro Black (2007-11) uses sampling and collage to create new networks of meanings and associations in the intersections of science fiction, social politics and African-American sonic culture. Layering excerpts from Afrofuturist Sun Ra’s feature film, Space is the Place (1974) with characters from Star Trek and backing dancers dressed in homage to the Black Panther Party in a Public Enemy music video, Astro Black employs collage in order to dismantle dominant historical narratives and propose possible re-readings.
We look to science fiction to offer the narratives that might guide us in negotiating these accelerating and complex futures
The visual language of science fiction also appears here in artworks by Royal Robertson (1936-1997), a self-taught artist from Louisiana who was reported to have suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, identifying himself as ‘Libra Patriarch Prophet Lord Archbishop Apostle Visionary Mystic Psychic Saint Royal Robertson’. His highly colourful drawings combine references from comic strips and science fiction with biblical prophecies, depicting fantastical and futuristic temples of religious worship.
As developments in science and technology become more abstract, so too do predictions of what the future might look like. We continue to look to science fiction to offer the narratives that might guide us in negotiating these accelerating and complex futures, as we journey into the unknown.
Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction takes place from 3 June–1 September.
Lead image: Pierre Jean Giloux. Invisible Cities # Part 1 # Metabolism, 2015. Video. Courtesy of the artist and Solang Production