Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Into the Unknown: Science Fiction at the Barbican Centre

From June 3 to September 1, our favourite retrofuturistic wonderland the Barbican Centre is holding a Science Fiction retrospective!

Into the Unknown explores the ability of science fiction to investigate 'the mysteries of what is still to be discovered, and the power of human ingenuity to unravel them."

Robots of several generations of film, including Lost In Space
and I, Robot

The main exhibit was divided into Extraordinary Voyages, Space Odysseys, Brave New Worlds, and Final Frontiers. Science fiction began in the imagination of classic writers such as Mary Shelley and Edgar Rice Burroughs, rode the trend of early Hollywood visual effects, and has grown into the mainstream culture we know today.

Evolution of Godzilla heads

Growing up in science fiction and fantasy fandom, I was especially excited to see many old 'friends' who had influenced my life and work. The exhibit opens not only with the voyages of Jules Verne, but with one of the greatest underrated illustrators of all time, James Gurney of Dinotopia.

James Gurney taught me about world building before JRR Tolkien even got his foot in the door. His Waterfall City was my childhood Parthenon and Wanderer all in one.

Up close his paintings are more organic and alive than in the books. Despite the incredible detail, there is also a range of painterly textures - for instance a heavy raised impasto in the white highlights of the city's globes.

More old favourites awaited - two icons of science fiction that have gone mainstream, the helmets of Darth Vader and the original Stormtroopers. Compared to today's sleek plastic designs, the original moulds now look heavy and ungainly, but have gained a classic flavour.

More beautiful alien headgear from "a long, long time ago": the gorgeous Anubis and Horus guard armour from Stargate. Remember Stargate? (They made more.)

Giger's Alien crouched in one of the alcoves along with many sketches of its anatomy, including the famous inner jaw of our nightmares. But another Giger design arrested us - the throne of Baron Harkonnen, for the never-filmed Dune adaptation by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius. Sometimes science fiction isn't about what might be, but what will never be.

It wasn't all dark warnings and alien empires - we saw some concept art from the beautiful animated film The Iron Giant, by Brad Bird of The Incredibles.

There were mini film theatres and 'media pods' playing eerie and experimental creations throughout the building, but we had to walk three floors below ground to the Pit Theatre, where I had never been before, to see the last installation.

In Light of the Machine is a robotic arm with a bright light on the end, moving in a "henge" (as artist Conrad Shawcross calls the structure) of laser-cut paper banners. The arm moves like a craftsman so immersed in their work, their movements take on a hypnotic quality to observers. We passed between the light and shadows cast by and through the paper, where the robot swung and groped in its circle.

Science fiction to us is not a series of answers or a vision of the future, but a journey made of questions and mysteries. We love the infinite "what-ifs?" in films, shows, and fiction, and don't think we will ever stop.

This post is for my mom: original wonder | wander | woman, Bene Gesserit, bringer of The Way (of science fiction!), constant inspiration and fellow nerd. Happy happy birthday!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.