What does “science fiction” mean in the 21st century? A traditional definition is that it is writing, or other artistic works, that presuppose a technology, or an effect of technology, such as humanity has not yet experienced. However, over the years, the genre has come to be represented by distinctive tropes and visual hallmarks, even when they are more closely associated with eras of the past – think of the monochrome screens in the film Alien from 1979, or how The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, due to the TV adaptation of 1981, is more synonymous with flared trousers than intergalactic space travel.
These visuals and discourses haunt the new exhibition Science Fiction: New Death at FACT. The artworks currently on display at the new media gallery in Liverpool are not so much dealing with technologies from the future or present, as with projections from the past. We are met in the atrium by a DIY hologram by James Bridle in his piece Homo Sacer. Within the exhibition, along low-ceilinged corridors that resemble a 1980s vision of a space craft or Orwellian office block, the artists refer to issues arising from communication strategies such as social media and email, addressed in Laurance Payot’s project One in a million you. Margaret Thatcher even makes an appearance (albeit via the movie poster from the 2011 film The Iron Lady) in the work of Karen Mirza and Brad Butler.
The co-curators of the exhibition claim that modern life has started to resemble science fiction. They also contend that the effects of new media will not be limited to impacting how we live, but how we die as well. However, as Mike Stubbs and Omar Kholeif explain, this isn’t an exhibition about death, but instead an investigation into self-obsession, nihilism, utopias and dystopias. The exhibition is underpinned by a newly commissioned piece of writing by acclaimed “weird fiction” author China Miéville. In it he writes, “We must proceed according to a presumption that we might have something up to which to live, that there might be a telos to all our upgraded dead, that we might eventually succeed in something, that we might unlock achievements, if we die correctly.”
Although the exhibition sometimes wraps itself up in curatorial rhetoric but it has a number of highlights. Tommy-chat just emailed me by Ryan Trecartin is a typically intense and jarring short film by the LA-based artist that uses its non-linear narrative to confront us with our own short attention spans. Another excellent short film that epitomises the way we consume culture today is Pearl Vision by Mark Leckey – a slick representation of the meeting of “the object”, sound and digital technologies – originally distributed on Channel 4 and FACT’s short film website and TV platform Random Acts.
Science Fiction: New death’s set design has been produced in collaboration with artist collective The Kazimier who are based in the city and are yet to receive the national attention they deserve. The exhibition is perhaps different from what the audience anticipate; ultimately it is a reading of the present through the premonitions of the past. Overall, the decision to hang an exhibition on a science fiction short story is nothing short of innovative.
Science Fiction: New Death running until 22 June at FACT Liverpool. 88 Wood Street, Liverpool, L1 4DQ
See more about the exhibition by visiting www.fact.co.uk
1. Laurence Payot One In A Million You Installation At FACT Liverpool. As Part Of Science Fiction: New Death