Text by Sinead Nunes
Science Fiction: New Death pays homage to the world of an often undervalued genre, whilst drawing attention to contemporary issues surrounding the future of our relationship with technology.
Fittingly, this exhibition takes place at FACT, a Liverpool gallery driven by its passion for and celebration of Art and Creative Technology. The Science Fiction genre has played an important role in shaping the digital world we inhabit, and this exhibition explores a dystopian future, in which the bizarre inventions of fiction become terrifying reality, and in some cases, already have. With special commissions by China Miéville and accompanied by a film season of classic and cult Science Fiction movies, FACT celebrates the world of Science Fiction with this ensemble of art, film and literature.
The concepts behind FACT’s latest incarnation are relevant, interesting and crucial to debate in our society: How will digital technology contribute to our already narcissistic online community? What will happen when we no longer care about issues beyond the scope of our insular social networks? Curators Omar Kholeif and Mike Stubbs argue that “the biggest threat to human beings is not extra terrestrial life, but our own self obsession” as we “remain uninformed of life outside our own self-curated, internally focused world”.
Whilst Gallery 1 is transformed into a stark, white, future state, visitors can contemplate these questions. The design of the exhibition environment is totally immersive and engaging, as visitors enter through security scanners, past James Bridle’s holographic steward ‘Homo Sacer’ (jarringly poignant given the recent redundancy cuts to FACT’s gallery staff), and into a maze-like microcosm of corridors.
Dizzingly futuristic, this installation confuses the viewer and challenges them to seek out their own path into this sparse, unforgiving universe. I was slightly disappointed that some of the design aspects within were not developed further, as it was frustrating to gaze on endless rows of frosted glass and mysterious unlabelled drawers. Intentional or not, at times I felt the installation could have been more detailed, more provoking.
The artwork on offer is hard to digest, especially due to the alien, uncomfortable exhibition space. For example, I was unable to appreciate Karen Mirza & Brad Butler’s film ‘Deep State’, which at 45 minutes stretches the amount of time anyone can be expected to stand and engage. Other film installations were also of a substantial length and I couldn’t help but feel that given the accompanying film programme, would these not have benefited as part of the cinema season instead?
Similarly, Nathan Jones’ sound installation was a piece I wanted to explore but was thwarted in my attempts; an audio track reinterpreting China Miéville’s thoughts on the future of death was lost amongst the bleeps and moans of the computers and films chattering throughout the rest of the gallery space. The accompanying exhibition guide, however, with newly commissioned literary content from Miéville is exciting and original, and thoughtfully presented in the form of a movie script, on A4 white paper in a stencilled typeface, echoing the wealth of material which inspired the exhibition.
Upstairs, Petra Gemeinboeck & Rob Saunders have hidden a robot, ‘Accomplice’, within the walls to Gallery 2, which expresses itself by punching through the plasterboard to transform its environment. Eerily following the viewer across the gallery space, this installation was unsettling, and engages with important ideas about the future of artificial intelligence.
This exhibition at times falls short of the brilliant concepts behind it; the insightful theories being played out echo the exciting preoccupations of 80s neo-noir cinema. The transformation of the gallery space itself by ‘experience designers’ The Kazimier is worth the trip if you want to explore strange new worlds, and the exhibition guide is definitely worth a read for any science fiction fan. As for the work on display, you decide.
Science Fiction: New Death is on display until 22 June 2014 at FACT, Liverpool.
Sinead Nunes is a recently graduated aspiring writer and artist, based in Liverpool.