June 2017 sees the opening of a four month gargantuan multi-media exhibition at the Barbican in London, covering the whole world of science fiction.
Curated by Swiss historian and writer Patrick Gyger, Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction covers art, film, music, comic books and video games. It plans to delve into the storytelling roots of the genre, tracing its history and examining how it has become arguably the dominant cultural form today. Mixing the well-known with the rare, it will feature work never seen in the UK before, with the new and the old sitting side by side.
The exhibition includes over 200 books from around the world – including original manuscripts and typescripts – contemporary art commissions and existing art works, over 60 film and TV clips, featuring some of the most memorable cinematic moments in the genre as well as rare footage, pulp magazines, adverts, concept art, film props, comics, video games and robots.
On display will be works from Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, Warner Bros. Corporate Archive and the personal archives of SFX artist Patrick Tatopoulos. Alongside the main display in the Curve Gallery, the exhibition continues all over the building, in the foyers and in the Pit Theatre. There will be film screenings in the cinema, a pop up outdoor cinema on the Barbican’s sculpture court, music performances in the Barbican Hall, as well as a public programme of talks and events in partnership with New Scientist and Penguin Classics.
In the Curve Gallery, the exhibition takes visitors on a journey through strange lands, dystopian worlds, and virtual universes in four chapters.
Extraordinary Voyages explores man’s fascination with the undiscovered, unknown and inaccessible areas of planet Earth, where Science Fiction narratives first took root, looking at mysterious islands, lost worlds, voyages under the sea and in the air.
It includes a cabinet of curiosities, containing original manuscripts and drawings from Jules Vernes, alongside James Gurney’s Dinotopia series, and dinosaur models by Ray Harryhausen. This section also includes original models and props from films including Godzilla and Jurassic Park , concept art from One Million Years BC, and some of the most influential literature of the time, including Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, H Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quatermain and She, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail, Thomas More’s Utopia, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan and the Lost Empire.
Space Odysseys, the largest section of the show, looks at the narratives most commonly associated with Science Fiction -space travel, the moon, alien contact, foreign planets and other worlds.
Motion graphics and VFX specialists Territory Studio will produce a new interactive commission based on their work on Ridley Scott’s The Martian, recreating a sequence from the film’s NASA Mission Control set. A gallery of aliens features heads, masks, skulls, models and props from films including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Aliens. The original spacesuits worn by John Hurt in Alien, Sam Rockwell in Moon, Cillian Murphy in Sunshine and Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek will also be on display, alongside original Darth Vader and Stormtrooper helmets from Star Wars. There will also be props and models from Stargate, Star Trek, Interstellar and Independence Day, and concept art from District 9, Alien and First Men in the Moon.
The exhibition will also feature artwork from some of the most influential artists in Science Fiction, including Frank R. Paul – whose 1920s magazine covers were a major influence on the genre – and artist HR Giger, as well as vintage postcards and adverts promoting Soviet visions of space.
There will be literature from Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama and Prelude to Space, Robert Heinlein’s Rocketship Gallileo, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand Of Darkness, Stanislav Lem’s Solaris, CS Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman and Tolstoy’s Aelita.
The third section of the show, Brave New Worlds, explores spaces and societies that mankind has created for itself, from future cities with gigantic skyscrapers, vast underground networks and the highly organised spaces of dystopian worlds to disasters, wars, the apocalypse and the end of the world as we know it.
This section includes works like Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, JG Ballard’s Vermillion Sands, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, William Burroughs’s Nova Express, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Doris Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic, Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s Utopia and Yevgeny Zamiatin’s We. It also includes a selection of Soviet-era postcards depicting modernist utopian cities of the future on loan from the Moscow Design Museum.
The final section, Final Frontiers, looks at inner realms to question our own existence in the universe. This section explores identity, the transformation, augmentation and mutation of the body, including cyborgs, mutants, clones and robots; Artificial Intelligence and dimensional rifts including time travel, parallel worlds and alternate dimensions.
VFX company Double Negative will create an installation around the android Ava, star of the 2015 film Ex Machina. Also featured is Multi-media artist Dara Birnbaum’s video Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, which appropriates imagery from the 1970s TV series to radically deconstruct the female pop icon for today’s audience. An auto-encoded version of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, using artificial neural networks to reconstruct the film, will be display along with Sunspring – a short film written entirely by an artificial intelligence bot for SciFi London’s 48-hour film challenge.
This section includes literature from Mikhaíl Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Robert Louis Stephenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as well as a selection of rare superhero comics from around the world.
It also includes TARS from Interstellar, Robot B-9 from Lost in Space and a 3D model of Sonny from I, Robot as well as selection of robots from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and China from the Mint Museum of Toys in Singapore.
Alongside film clips, books, pulps, adverts, comics, posters and games, the Barbican presents both newly commissioned and existing contemporary artworks by British artist Conrad Shawcross, US Artist Trevor Paglen and Palestinian video artist Larissa Sansour. The foyers will also show short films, and host a jukebox of Science Fiction- inspired music, with three listening booths and a free interactive section of Science Fiction video games.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a programme of related events around the Centre, as well as a dedicated exhibition catalogue. These include talks, Penguin Book Club events, an Outdoor Cinema between 25 – 27 August that includes 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tron and Gravity, and Sci Fi Sundays at the Barbican Cinema that includes Soylent Green, Ixarie XB-1 and THX 1138.
And electronic music pioneer Jeff Mills presents a series of innovative conceptualised events entitled From Here to There in June, which marry electronic music with symphonic sounds and other art forms. In July, Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason take musical inspiration from Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. The music will be performed with a video accompaniment by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson.
Neil McConnon, Head of Barbican International Enterprises, said: “Science Fiction has enjoyed a fascinating transition from niche to pop culture in recent years but still evokes strong emotions in many. We were keen to develop an exhibition that presents a new take on this broad genre by encompassing a variety of art forms. We hope it will appeal to everyone from Science Fiction aficionados to sceptics and all those in between.”
Patrick Gyger, Curator, said: “Science Fiction is responsible for some of the world’s most iconic film, music, literature and art. Today, the interaction between digital, virtual and physical spheres further blurs the boundaries between it and our current reality. From 19th century cabinets of curiosities to cyberpunk,Into the Unknown takes a fresh and, at times, subversive look at the new territories, lost worlds, cosmic possibilities and virtual universes that traverse the broadest parameters of human imagination and yet are often instantly relatable.”