Things to Come Science Fiction An Exhibition

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Things to Come

Science Fiction – An Exhibition

Petach Tikva Museum of Fine Art

Winter 2016

Science fiction is a relative new field which deals with the impact of imagined science and technology upon society and individuals. It is a controlled way to think and dream about the future but in the same time it reflects the value system of the culture in which it is produced.

It is through Science fiction that existing social desires, cultural aspirations, political and technological templates express themselves. The imagination of the future speaks volumes about the present and every imagined future has also its past as a reference point.

Futuristic nostalgias are therefore important in understanding our own culture. In this sense imagining the future is not an issue of “What Is” against “What If”, and neither does it aim to keep the future alive or affirm its existence but rather it can configure the future, in the words of Fredric Jameson, as the conditions of possibility and constraint for social change in the present (quoted in his article Progress Versus Utopia: Or Can We Imagine The Future in SF studies, July 1982)

SF is similar in its sub-structure to mythological constructs though myth relates to a static reality and SF indicates or postulates the unavoidable nature of change. Yet, both structures explain the grand narrative of their societies and aim to express cultural desires in aesthetical terms. Hence, the affiliation SF has with the religious impulse. In a world robbed from the Holy, where phenomena are being explained scientifically, the sense of wonder which was to disappear through secularism regains its power and this from within the scientific modus itself. Thus, it allows the imaginative to continue functioning as the locus of things to come, where desires reside and wishful thinking is allowed the benefit of certainty.

Behind the different approaches Science fiction takes in order to demonstrate its visions, the notion of a future utopia or dystopia is the most consistent feature underlying all facets dealt with in this field. When the humanist scholar Thomas More wrote about a kingdom called Utopia, located just off the coast of the newly explored lands of the Americas, he brought the ideal society out of the realm of the hereafter into the realm of earthly possibility. Despite its questionable existence (through a clever pun on its Greek roots, utopia means both "good place" and "no place"), Utopia was an entirely human construction, inhabited by ordinary people rather than the blessed or the virtuous. More’s detailed descriptions of the island kingdom sparked the creation of an entirely new literary genre, inspiring similar fictions up to this day.

Science Fiction presents us with extremely dreadful futures (Dystopias) and absolutely wonderful one (Utopias). But Science Fiction is, first and foremost, a search for Utopia. It offers a "menu" of Utopian futures based on new technological contexts for the human being, intended to be self-fulfilling prophecies; and also a "menu" of dystopian futures, in which some unhealthy trend is extrapolated to a horrible extent, intended to be cautionary tales or self-defeating prophecies.

SF started as a literary genre popularized in the 19th century and developed its expression in other fields as well as having a massive impact on life in the 20th century. It differs from fantasy as it involves strangeness extrapolated from science and technology, rather than strangeness which stands contrary to natural laws. Fantasy ignores those laws while SF has to respect them even when inventing new ones. In a way, SF rationalizes fantasy, making it credible for the modern mind. Science fiction, therefore, is a demonstrative mode of the modern imagination. This explains its enormous attractiveness as it answers to demands such an imagination will pose.

Early SF was published in books and magazines. The first magazine being Amazing Stories edited by Hugo Gernsback in 1926, but whenever a new medium appeared, SF was there to take its share. It was already present in silent films, and then in television, comic strips, musicals and the film industry. The field has an enormous fan activity which organizes conventions, magazines and websites. SF fandom acts as a community and is a replicator in raising interest in the subject by a larger public.

Science Fiction is a phenomenon that transgresses geo-political borders. (The exhibition will stress this idea as one of its main guide-line). It gained popularity both in the capitalistic society of the USA as in the Communist USSR. It is surprising how literary and artistic products stemming from these two different political venues were similar in form and content as if the spirit of men and women, in recognizing essential dilemmas, surpassed local politics. In a way Science Fiction commemorates the future as a place where conflicts have the capacity of being solved. It speaks about global world, its advantages and risks, and it did so long before globalization took place and from this perspective Science Fiction operates as a geo-political laboratory where ideas which may or may not be realized are being analyzed and observed.


The exhibition, its aims, methodology, and structure
The purpose of the exhibition is to give a visibility to the cultural phenomenon of SF. To demonstrate this dimension of imagination and its rich heritage both historically and thematically. To unfold its expression in many media such as painting, sculpture, films, models, comics and book covers. The show aims to define the speculative fiction in its visual modus and to points towards its historical context as well as its development. It will do so by employing both high art objects as well as artifacts coming from popular culture domains. The exhibition will stress the fact that the phenomenon of Science fiction unites people in different cultures, countries and political systems. It expresses the Renaissance idea of progress, imbedded in the human mind, as well as the nightmares and dystopias this mind may imagine.
It is worth noting here that SF is regarded mainly as located within a popular culture, a locus which lends the field a troubled aura of being a simplified form of art. We tend to understand popular culture (and its commodities) as those which denote a passive recipient accepting prefabricated ideas, but researches in cultural studies indicate that circulation of meaning in popular culture is an act of popular production where the process of multiplicity of readings by the consumer explains the enormous attractiveness those subjects holds for both the community of fans as well as for a wider public. In this sense the exhibition will address more than its traditional museum –going- public but will open the doors for other public as well.

In order to reach this greater public, the exhibition draw together and combines different parameters with no differentiation between what is considered to be high art or popular expression. The show is divided into topics and each topic is visualized both historically (chronologically) and thematically. Each topic is demonstrated through different medium and is accompanied with wall texts which will give a depth explanation. Each such topic gets a space of its own. For example, a space dealing with the notion of the Alien will contains taxonomy of aliens as known from literature and art, demonstrated through different movies, paintings, and models but will also include an explanation of the notion of the Other so that the icon will be located as a culture symptom. The exhibition employs such an approach so that it will not be limited to the topography of images but will attempt to explain their presence in our culture.


Regarding Space

The vision of encountering deep space and the sense of discovering far territories nourish our imagination. In Science Fiction, the concept of infinite space is central to the sense of wonder generated through the medium and is associated with the idea of infinity and with a religious dimension. Space as an expression of the infinite and as such also an expression of God finds echoes in the literature of Science fiction as well as in fine art. Emmanuel Levinas in his book Totality and Infinity defined the later as that which cannot be defined nor reduced to knowledge or power and this awareness is present in many of the books and art works dealing with this subject.

Space is central in the history of modern art. Compositional space was stretched, twisted, cut, articulated, inverted, gridded, minimalized, blocked, textured, splashed, lashed, and exploded in order to redefine it as an ideal locus.

Space itself has many forms in the realm of Science Fiction. There is the notion of a hyperspace, slipspace, interspace, time vortex, warpspace or subspace, all of them products of the field’s imagination, analyzed and exhibited in the different media Science fiction uses. With the introduction of cyberspace and digital works, another dimension of handling space was introduced. Space is not only the matrix in which the events happen but also the dimension which lends religiosity to this field.

2. Aliens

The existence of alien beings (intelligent extraterrestrial life) is a central theme in Science Fiction’s literature, films and art. The Alien is always the Other, and in this sense a vehicle to understand our culture’s identity and xenophobic problems. Early Science fiction differentiates between two kinds of Aliens, the benevolent and the evil types. Bad aliens are associated with the theme of invasion, in which a technologically-superior extraterrestrial society invades Earth with the intent to replace human life, or to enslave it under a colonial system. The invasion scenario has been used as an allegory for a protest against military and colonial hegemony of the time. Thus, Wells’ The War of the Worlds is often viewed as an indictment of European colonialism, setting a common theme for future alien invasion stories that force audiences in modern societies to empathies with the conquered rather than the conqueror. The Cold War made people particularly receptive to the idea of evil and incomprehensible beings coming to destroy or enslave earthly life, while the contrasting picture of aliens during this time was that of the wise and civilized race coming to Earth to impart their wisdom and solve our problems. Already n the 50th but more so in the 60th which was the start of an open society, the aliens progressed from slimy green things to creatures almost human as in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) where its humanity itself that emerges as the source of aggression.

Science fiction has taxonomy of aliens. They may be reptilians, of a genetic base similar to humans, insectoids (arachnid), robotic and mechanical. They might even be an abstract form or disguised in natural phenomena.
3. Les Voyages Extraordinaires

Les Voyages Extraordinaires ("The Extraordinary Voyages") was a publishing title affixed to the novels, fictional and non-fictional, of the French author and Science Fiction pioneer Jules Verne. Verne was not the first in the tradition of fictional journeys. It seems that the idea of travelling captured the imagination of many authors prior to the age of science because it presupposes another locus which defines the exotic in relation to the place of origin. A journey therefore is less geographical and more psychological. Journeys in Science Fiction literature involve two iconic topics. One is that of the star ship, the other is the idea of colonization. The idea of the journey is also telling in building the image of the hero and is a necessary component in forming one of the initiation rites connected with achieving his goal. In Science Fiction the hero is less a figure and more an idea around which the fantasy of alienation is built. This means that in many stories the journey is not added to the main protagonist but is the protagonist personified.

The vehicle by which colonization is achieved, the space ship, is the primary icon of the field’s imagination. In this sense the space ship signifies the genre. The early ships were usually depicted round or bullet-shaped or tended to simile flying railway-carriages or submarines. Sometimes the ship looked like a floating city or a bulbous machine and later they achieved an elegant streamline corresponding to the development of sleeker cars in the real world. This line will be later transported to the field of design and will designate the very notion of modernity.

There are many kinds of ships. For example there is the generation ship are also known as sleepership where the ship moves under ftl (faster-than -light) and needs eons to arrive at her goal. Its crew is in hibernation or suspended animation like in 2001; space Odyssey

When a ship operates in a world known to the faster than light phenomenon it is called an ansible or superluminal and the spaces it uses are called wrap space (Alcubiere Drive), hyperspace, or wormhole.

The space ship stands as metaphor of breaking barriers of motion and speed and as such is an icon of modernity.

5. Less than Human -Machines, Computers, Robots

The idea of artificial people dates at least as far back as the ancient legend of Cadmus who sowed dragon teeth that turned into soldiers, or the myth of Pygmalion and his Galatea .Machines, computers and robots are mechanical devices aspiring to have a soul and to become or simile humans, to be a copy which is more perfect than the original. The first recorded design of a humanoid robot was made by Leonardo da Vinci around 1495 but once technology advanced to the point where people foresaw mechanical creatures as more than toys, literary responses to the concept of robots reflected fears that humans would be replaced by their own creations. Frankenstein (1818), sometimes called the first science fiction novel, has become synonymous with this theme. In Science Fiction a robot or a computer (which are actually the same) are often humanoid or anthropomorphic in form and the literature attaches to both entities human qualities, both positive and negative. Computers appeared in fiction centuries before they materialized as working devices, helping to inspire the creation of real computers and also warning of their dangers.

Science Fiction mediates the dichotomy man-machine through several avatars and builds a genealogy that transform in a mutative manner human towards the machine. As with other themes, the relation towards change in what is human is deeply ambivalent. Clones, androids and cyborgs as well as superhuman are regarded through both a strategy of suspicion and fear but also as the only hope humanity has and as a further step of evolution.

Science Fiction vision indicates that in the line that moves from Copernicus’ discovery that we are not the center of the universe through Darwin’s evolution theory, to Freud’s proof that we are not our own masters, the transformation from organic human to a bio-engineered or mechanical one will be the next step. This is where Science Fiction aims and which it justifies or condemns.

Although human morphology is not necessarily the ideal form for working artificial creatures, the fascination in developing a form that can mimic it can be found historically in the assimilation of two concepts: simulacra (devices that exhibit likeness) and automata (devices that have independence)

Cyborgs and androids are another variations on the theme. While the replacement of lost body parts enhances the lives of disabled people, the sheer number of monstrous cyborgs in literature, art, and films reflects a pervasive anxiety that our technological lust will propagate grotesquely deformed, superhuman techno-creatures that will ultimately extinguish us.

7. Urbanscapes

Architectural elements have played an important role in visioning the future, in the fine arts as well as in the literature and especially in the films where urbanic designs made by artists and architects could be seen as three dimensional structures. There are many example of influences such as Antonio Sant Elia’s Citta Nuova from 1913 on the city design in Metropolis and on Blade Runner’s urbanic scenes.Fritz Lang's 1927 film, Metropolis, marked the dawn of a cinematic tradition in which architectural elements have played an important role in the representation of scientific and technological developments in such a manner that it creates a convincing vision for the projected future. There is also a direct line of influence from postmodernist architecture to the 1980s cyberpunk cityscapes.

In fine art most visions concerning the future concentrate around urban solutions. This is the matrix on which the utopic or the dystopic can function. However, there is a fundamental difference between the architecture envisioned by early art movement such as the Supermatism or later the architecture designed by groups like Archigram and the urban future suggested in the films. While the first relay on a positive outlook

The imagined future of Science Fiction film is a realm that is shaped by capitalism. A dystopic, rather than a utopian future is the prevailing theme.

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