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wormholes into new dimensions

gail priest: interview, bec dean & lizzie muller, awfully wonderful

Gail Priest is a Performance Space Board Member and science fiction fan.

Philip Brophy, The Sound of Milk, 2004 video still Philip Brophy, The Sound of Milk, 2004 video still
courtesy the artist
ACCORDING TO THE LONDON TELEGRAPH (FEB 1, 2011), SCIENTISTS HAVE MANAGED TO MAKE A PAPER CLIP DISAPPEAR USING ‘CLOAKING TECHNOLOGY’ OF THE KIND THAT ALLOWS VULCAN SHIPS IN STAR TREK (1966-2005) TO SUDDENLY MATERIALISE BEHIND THE ENTERPRISE. THEY’VE ALSO BEEN EXPLORING THE USE OF METAMATERIALS—PROJECTING ‘BACKGROUND’ OVER A MICROSCOPIC OBJECT SO THAT IT WILL SEEM INVISIBLE. IT SOUNDS RATHER LIKE THE TECHNOLOGY DESCRIBED BY WILLIAM GIBSON IN THE FORM OF SCRAMBLE SUITS WORN BY THE PANTHER MODERNS IN HIS NOVEL NEUROMANCER (1984). AS CURATOR LIZZIE MULLER SUGGESTS, “SCIENCE FICTION DOESN’T JUST PREDICT THE FUTURE, IN SOME WAYS IT BRINGS IT INTO BEING.”

Of course many science fiction writers are very well informed about science. In extending the possibilities of current tools and speculating on sociological trends they play a vital role in preparing us for new technological horizons. It is this interplay of fact, fiction, reality and dreaming that has inspired Muller and her co-conspirator Bec Dean in their curation of the upcoming exhibition Awfully Wonderful, at Performance Space. Dean is a curator, writer and Performance Space Associate Director and Muller, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Design at the University of Technology Sydney, is a curator, writer and researcher specialising in interaction, audience experience and interdisciplinary collaboration.

low-tech excursions

The relationship between science fiction and ‘new’ media art has always been strong. However, what is intriguing about Awfully Wonderful is the downplaying of technology: the works are, on the whole, relatively low-fi, with the emphasis placed firmly on the fictive content. There’s no bio-art, laser technologies, holograms or robots; rather there’s photomedia, video, installation, sculpture and painting. Well actually there is a robot, but it’s made of cardboard—Simon Yates will be recreating the cyborg Maria from Metropolis in the style of his balloon-suspended walking characters. Muller says ironically that Yates’ Maria “is probably not dissimilarly as high-tech as the one that starred in the actual film,” the longer, recently rediscovered version of which will also be screened in Awfully Wonderful.

Eugene Carchesio, she sells $ilence by the sea shore 2011 Eugene Carchesio, she sells $ilence by the sea shore 2011
courtesy Milani Gallery
An unusual inclusion is artist Eugene Carchesio, who will be creating a wall painting specifically for the exhibition. Dean says, “I’m really interested in the small systems, languages and codes that Eugene proposes in his work…I think inside [this] painting is the potential for infinity within a closed form…Science, time and space are implicit and yet not overstated in his works. He is interested in numerology and cosmologies and all these different kinds of patterns and systems that are repeated and are not so easy to pin down or quantify.”

artist as lab rat

Bec Dean has also been interested in the work of Hayden Fowler for some time. Previously his absurdist scenarios in which people co-exist quietly with a variety of animals have been exhibited as video works, but in Anthropocene the artist himself will inhabit his installation accompanied by some lab rats. Dean explains: “[Fowler is] an artist who is interested in inter-species relationships and the kinds of connections that we might have with other sorts of life forms here on planet earth and maybe somewhere else too.” The use of lab rats alludes to biotechnology but Muller also suggests that the interspecies exploration is a “neo-Adam, neo-Eden thing…there’s this idea of biotechnology being the latest apple that we’ve stolen. What is that going to do to our relationship with the natural world? This is what Eden and Adam myths are about, the relationship to power, to knowledge, to god, to everything else that exists on the planet. That’s why sci-fi is such a great genre because it really goes at those great myths.”

time travellers

Time travel is explored through the technologies of moving image by both Sam Smith and Ms&Mr. Dean says Smith’s work “is about the kind of time travel that is inherent within any form of recorded media in terms of the way you can reverse it, play it forward, go back to a point or pause it. [This is] taken further by Ms&Mr who go back into old media and insert something new or intertwine stories [about themselves] before they’d even met. In both of those works the artists are very playfully engaging with the notion of time travel within media that is already extant, that we already have at our fingertips.” A related work by Jaki Middleton and David Lawrey will continue the artists’ explorations using the pre-cinematic device of Pepper’s Ghost to create pre- and post-apocalyptic dioramas, gradually shifting from prosperity to disaster before our very eyes. [See RT Studio]

earth’s atmosphere and beyond

The works of David Haines/Joyce Hinterding and Adam Norton engage a little more directly with notions of science. Haines/Hinterding are inspired both artistically and philosophically by the controversial psychiatrist and inventor Wilhelm Reich. They will be recreating Reich’s Cloudbuster, which was invented to produce rainclouds. Muller suggests that the cloudbuster has particular resonance now with “global warming and the possibility of geo-engineering fixing some of our manmade problems...the technological fix, but also technology as magic.”

Adam Norton, Mars Space Walk Adam Norton, Mars Space Walk
photo courtesy the artists
Adam Norton has set himself a particularly ambitious task attempting to recreate the gravity of Mars in the CarriageWorks foyer. Using a complicated system of harnesses and ramps based on NASA’s Apollo space program devices, he will perform Mars space walks in simulated 38% gravity at the opening and every Saturday during the exhibition.

the other woman

Deborah Kelly has been commissioned to create a work responding to the representations of women in science fiction. After trawling through Australia’s largest archive of sci-fi pulp magazines, Kelly has taken a slightly oblique approach. Inspired by the writings of radical feminist Shulamith Firestone on issues to do with women taking control of their own reproductive lives, she is creating delicate collages in which sci-fi scenarios are recreated with organic materials like seashells. Muller says, “it is another take on sci-fi imagery that I think is as interesting as the big breasted 70-foot woman, pulp-type imagery and is also really interesting in terms of the connection between the organic and the machinic, which is where the cyborg idea comes from.” Thematically linked is a Philip Brophy video work, exhibited here for the first time, The Sound of Milk (2004), a dystopian tale in which males and females have become separate species. Ian Haig’s Chronicles of the new human organism (2009, with sound by Brophy and Philip Samartzis), in the form of a post-apocalyptic nature documentary, will also play in the dedicated screening room.

sci-fi science

A particularly exciting inclusion is a series of artefacts sourced from the Powerhouse Museum, assembled and interpreted by Jo Law and featuring an Edison phonograph from 1908, a Curta Calculator and Dr Bodkin Adam’s Electromassager. While these artefacts relate to the artworks in Awfully Wonderful and are particularly beautiful as objects, they also offer their own fictions. For example, the Curta calculator features in William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition as a prize collector’s item connected with smuggling and conspiracy. The Electromassager manufactured by the Ediswan company is a vibrator that emits a violet light intended to relieve female hysteria, and was owned by English physician Dr Bodkin Adams who is suspected of killing a large number of his patients after securing inclusion in their wills. In addition, in their obsolescence these objects offer further potential for the imagination. Muller says, “because they’re no longer current in terms of scientific truth, they’ve moved into the realms of scientific fiction and they have that same kind of provocative speculative aura as the artworks.”

In addition to the exhibition, there will also be a range of public programs including a symposium and an audio guide by scientists, in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Australia (RiAus, Adelaide) who advocate for a broader understanding of science. “We really wanted to have scientists talking about the works and the scientific possibilities behind them and have that as an aspect of the interpretation,” Muller says.

For Lizzie Muller and Bec Dean, Awfully Wonderful brings together their passion for art and their shared love of science fiction. Muller concludes, “I did literature before I did art, and I was really interested in science too…I loved Gulliver’s Travels and things that combined science, literature and experimentation with a form. That’s what we’re looking for—artworks that have kind of wormholed into another dimension.”


Performance Space, Awfully Wonderful, curators Bec Dean, Lizzie Muller, artists Philip Brophy, Eugene Carchesio, Haines/Hinterding, Deborah Kelly, Jo Law, David Lawrey & Jaki Middleton, Ms&Mr, Hayden Fowler, Ian Haig, Adam Norton, Sam Smith, Simon Yates, Performance Space, CarriageWorks, April 15-May 14

The RealTime-Performance Space informal discussion with artists, curators and guests about Awfully Wonderful will be held Monday May 9, 6.30pm. All welcome.

Richard Alleyne, Invisibility cloak enters the real world, Feb 1, 2011; www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8296338/Invisibility-cloak-enters-the-real-world.html

Gail Priest is a Performance Space Board Member and science fiction fan.

RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. 45

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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