Main Gallery and Small Object Space
29 May – 17 July 21
Speculative fiction provides a rich source of visions of possible future worlds. Many of these literary works have provided the narratives and imagery for some of our most memorable movies. Visual artists, on the other hand, have found it harder to create realistically detailed visions of the future, especially in three dimensions, without being dismissed as fanciful. They are restricted in having to use current materials and by the limitations of today’s technology. As such, few have chosen to tackle the future as a subject.
To assist artists in embracing this theme, we asked 7 artists to create works based on stories set some 50 years from now. Not surprisingly the works they have produced offer solutions and clarity despite the environmental and technological dystopias/utopias they have responded to.
The selected artists were given the opportunity to respond to a number of short texts provided by Aussie Speculative Fiction, a Facebook group with well over 800 writers or to choose from other existing texts. The texts covered various locations from beach to city and agricultural to office environments.
Not surprisingly, a read through of the selected stories reveals desolate beaches with ash coloured waves crashing against crimson skies; the transformation of children into plant forms; an overheated dead planet with limited human settlement in the current polar regions; or a world managed by technology where the office is a meditative space. Invariably the people in these stories wear a range of protective gear or extended technologies, and devices to grow food on the body in lieu of unfertile land.
The use of salvaged materials and adapted food sources suggest that these future worlds are in survival mode and reveal a desire by remaining inhabitants, like earlier indigenous communities, to have a greater symbiotic relationship with nature. Ironically, Kamilaroi/Bigambul artist Archie Moore, rather than respond to a piece of future fiction, has collected earlier pieces of ‘fiction’ in the form of old newspaper articles which speak of Aboriginal peoples ‘dying out’. Through the use of Augmented Reality audiences will be able to hear and see current, living people from the groups mentioned in the articles to show that they are survivors and to emphasize that they indeed have not ‘died out’.
Dystopia/Utopia:2070 is not only about artistic visions of the future enclosed in a 2021 gallery space but also attempts to provide access for viewers to virtual spaces. Throughout the exhibition the audience can enter other worlds, meet characters related to the works and hear works discussed by virtual curators. An Augmented Reality app will provide various entry levels to the exhibition and provide a rich performative experience to visitors.
Susan Lincoln’s installation The Swing is a response to the utopian workplace backdrop found in Alice Lam’s speculative fiction ‘Freelancers Freedom’. The Swing has been designed as a nature inspired immersive ‘downtime’ to ensure employees operate (emotionally and physically) at optimum levels. Evocative recollections of a childhood in nature, fun, excitement and freedom are interwoven into a shiny and bright 2070 setting constructed from found material excesses of an earlier time. Comprising a rhythmic cloud-like form suspended above a soothing and tactile ground cover, the immersive environment is informed by the Fruit of Life pattern found in Sacred Geometry, a blueprint of all in the universe and a symbol of blessing and protection. The circular forms of this work act to humanize the speculative fictional workspace and symbolize new beginnings and a renewed connection to community. Could it be that we have returned to a time of ‘shiny, happy people holding hands’?
Clare Poppi responds to an agricultural future where individual agency and power has been relinquished and agricultural land and seed sovereignty is controlled by big corporations. The character of a green-hued, chloroplasted boy taken from his parents to be experimented on from Melissa Ferguson’s story Agricultural Dystopia is combined with a memory from her own childhood when her father (a scientist) had talked to her about the hypothetical possibility of humans photosynthesizing sunlight. This has resulted in her creating a child sized bio headpiece. In a dystopic future where our food system is controlled by large corporate entities, it is small communities and individuals who can subvert the status quo and the simple act of seed saving and sharing can become a powerful symbol of resistance. Poppi has also created a set of reliquaries and fereters that contain these seeds.
Northern NSW artist Charlotte Haywood in her work VIRIDITAS creates a bricolage sculpture or more specifically what she calls a “holobiont”, an assemblage of a host and many other species living in or around it. It is a response to Pamela Jeffs’s story Fifty Mile Bone Beach. In assembling VIRIDITAS, tentacular collaborations trace along coastlines to the Seaweed Research Group of Sunshine Coast University QLD, the Seaweed Appreciation Society international (SASi) VIC, Prosthetic Art Technology (PAT) NSW, and across the seas to the musician Pedro Espi-Sanchis in Cape Town, South Africa. The work combines a driftwood fog harp water harvester, a kelp flute, re-purposed copper funnel and glass vessels and other elements moulded from seaweed salt, sand and beach cast kelp. VIRIDITAS playfully entangles currents of thought, technology, material and song. Patchworking our tools and relationships together as DIY maps of survival, songs of future nostalgia, circular economies and elemental ecologies, it reframes our relationships to living entities (macroalgae /seaweed), the elements (water), and currencies. Our currencies change, and driftwood becomes high commodity, our landscapes change, and forests become deserts… our haute couture is made of seaweed. Humans like macro algae are examples of holobionts. In reflecting on our multi modal and multicultural relationship with macro algae, the sea and all it brings forth across time and place- how do we offer back? Through interactions and platforms of reciprocity; through a lens of the oceans, seas, and entities of water as kin, caring for us and vice versa. What are the rights of the oceans to exist and thrive?
Christine Atkins’s work Ctrl+S responds to the world depicted in A Drowned World by J.G. Ballard; a dystopian future where extreme global warming has occurred. Due to the mass exodus of people from cities, civilisation as we currently know it has been abandoned, including our art and much of our information. Preservation of information is now key, as it is a major component of what makes us human and links us to the past. Atkins’s installation demonstrates new data storage technology where information is written into the atoms of diamonds. A single diamond can hold the entire history of art. Diamonds are easily preserved and transportable, making the preservation of information significantly easier. The installation contains fragments of salvaged bits of old technology like books, clay tablets and smartphones and rescued artworks from 21st century Queensland.
Sunshine Coast artists Rebecca Ward and Russell Anderson situate their curiously titled work, Mrs Legannigans Bookstore: Neurological Implants, NanoGarments and Coffee in a time after the second world Tsunami (GT2). They have responded to a story by Sheryl Anderson titled After the Apocalypse/s, a time when people live in urban high-rise sustainable, solar-powered, earthquake and tsunami proofed communities with roof and vertical wall food gardens. In this time technology makes life liveable but stuff of the past like “images of people dancing in nightclubs, eating in restaurants, people standing close, closer, people in groups, hugging, kissing’ etc are just memories. Sounds familiar. Ward and Anderson have created ‘Chessy’, a piece of future technology designed to sit on the chest and activate a protective bubble (‘Bub’) around the wearer when the atmosphere becomes toxic. It is set to automatically deploy and it can also be manually activated. In its retracted state, the glass represents the nanoparticles of the compressed ‘Bub’. In its most expanded state, it is only one atom thick with different translucencies available. The ‘Chessy’ attaches to the human body and clothing using nano fasteners developed from the biomimicry of gecko feet.
Dystopia/Utopia:2070 actually questions how we define a dystopian or utopian world. There is no simple division between the two states. The artists in this exhibition focus on the positives of survival. The writers point to our memories and our history that still exist in some form in this future world. In this way the exhibition offers a rich set of possibilities to discuss the future world without descending into a depressive dystopian state or a totally optimistic utopian world.
Kevin Wilson, Dystopia/Utopia curator.
Image: Clare Poppi, Bio-headpiece 2021 925 Silver, Copper, Glass, Live Plants. Photography by Michelle Bowden
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