Events

ASSEMBLIES: OPEN EYE HUB

16 September 2022

VR: Visualising Pollution – Whitby High School

23 June - 28 June 2022

VR: “There is an I…” – UCEN, Manchester

2 July - 5 July 2022

Exhibitions

COMING SOON: Clickmoor on Climate

15 August - 4 September 2022

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COMING SOON: LOOK PHOTO BIENNIAL @ WIGAN AND LEIGH

1 October 2022

Exhibitions

Make, Mend and Sustain – Digital Window Gallery

14 July - 4 September 2022

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LOOKBOOK CLUB: THE OVERSTORY BY RICHARD POWERS, Pages 1-28

25 September 2022

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Guided Walk: Bats of Sefton Park

1 September 2022

Exhibitions

A Portrait of the High Street @ Prescot Town Centre

25 July 2022

Exhibitions

Reclaiming @ Rainbow Tea Rooms, Chester

13 August 2022

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GUIDED WALK: The Veteran Trees of Childwall Woods #2

27 August 2022

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Guided Walk: Bees of Sefton Park

31 July - 31 July 2022

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Guided Walk: A History of Sefton Park Landscape

21 August 2022

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GUIDED WALK: The Veteran Trees of Childwall Woods #1

6 August 2022

Exhibitions

WIGAN AND LEIGH COLLEGE STUDENTS

14 July - 4 September 2022

COMING SOON: MIMESIS: A BEAT BEFORE THE RAPTURE @ NEW ADELPI ATRIUM

19 October - 16 November 2022

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COMING SOON: ARE YOU LIVING COMFORTABLY? @ NEW ADELPHI EXHIBITION GALLERY

10 October - 23 December 2022

Exhibitions

Before it Melts into Solid: Carmel College Students

14 July - 4 September 2022

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Journal Launch: Coast to Coast to Coast

13 August 2022

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Writing Workshop: Listening to the River Mersey with Maria Isakova-Bennett

13 August 2022

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ROOTING FOR THE FUTURE: Growing Culture, Community and Creativity

4 September 2022

COMING SOON: Let’s Grow Preston

23 July 2022

Exhibitions

DOT-ART ANALOGUE PHOTOGRAPHY COMPETITION WINNERS

14 July - 28 July 2022

Past Events

An evening with Guillemot Press Poets

22 July 2022

Exhibitions Open Source Exhibitions

OPEN SOURCE #24 DARAGH DRAKE: ANAM CARA

14 July - 18 August 2022

Exhibitions

MWALULA – HELLEN SONGA @ LIVERPOOL GROWING SPACES

11 July - 4 September 2022

Past Events

LOOK Photo Biennial 2022: Launch Party

14 July 2022

Past Events

Visual Studies X Open Eye Gallery Roundtable

14 July 2022

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LOOK PHOTO BIENNIAL 2022: CLIMATE

15 July - 4 September 2022

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Make, Mend & Sustain @ Chester Charity Shops

8 July - 5 August 2022

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Before it Melts into Solid @ World of Glass, St. Helens

30 June - 26 July 2022

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Student Exhibitions: “There is an I…” – UCEN, Manchester

2 July - 5 July 2022

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Our Planet, Our Future! A conversation on Sustainable Futures in St Helens

9 July - 9 July 2022

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Planting for the Planet @ RHS Garden Bridgewater

27 May - 27 August 2022

Past Events

Whose High Street is it? Unlocking Creative Futures in Our Own Town Centres

29 June 2022

Events

POETRY READING: 100 Years of The Waste Land

17 November - 17 November 2022

Events

National Poetry Day Celebration: The Environment

6 October 2022

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(Re)Production: Parenthood and the Art World

16 June - 3 July 2022

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In Conversation: Mindful Photo Project

2 July 2022

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Mindful Photo Project @ HMP Thorncross

9 June - 6 July 2022

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Student Exhibitions: Whitby High School

23 June - 28 June 2022

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Student Exhibitions: Hugh Baird University Centre

18 June - 21 June 2022

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VR: Follow The River, Follow The Thread

1 April - 12 June 2022

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Sustainability – Climate Change and the impact from Industry

17 May 2022

Open Source Exhibitions

Open Source #22: Bags For Life – Luke Saxon

1 May - 31 May 2022

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VR: LOOK Climate Lab 2022

13 January - 20 March 2022

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An evening with Maytree Poets

28 April 2022

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Recovery in Focus & Inside Stories

14 May 2022

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Homo Humour film screening & Q&A

7 May 2022

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Painting the Mersey in 17 Canvases Coast to Coast to Coast

21 May 2022

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Photo by Aideal Hwa on Unsplash
Dora Garcia, The Mnemosyne Revolution

Imagining Disaster: Science Fiction X Contemporary Art

‘Science Fiction was always about more than cheap special effects and pulpy storylines.’

Mike Pinnington on why contemporary artists increasingly turn to the genre as a space to mobilise, and rethink the here and now…    

In Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Captain Beatty the chief of a fire station in a future where books are illegal, and a fireman’s job is to burn them declares: ‘A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.’ After all, he goes on to ask: ‘Who knows who might be the target of a well-read man?’ What Beatty so luridly reflects here is society’s anxiety at the power of an idea. The power of knowledge to disrupt the status quo. The firemen, therefore, are constantly on the lookout for dissidents and subversives, who keep books and, should they be burnt, learn them by heart, so that the ideas within their pages are kept alive.  

Ideas, of course, are communicated in many forms not least by visual artists. It wasn’t so very long before Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 that the Nazis were confiscating and burning so-called ‘degenerate’ works of modern art. There were strong echoes of Bradbury’s book in the 2015 exhibition Works To Know By Heart: An Imagined Museum. ‘You’ve arrived at Tate Liverpool in the future. All of the works of art on display are about to disappear, forever’ warned the blurb. A great idea from science fiction transposed to the gallery, it looked back to the degenerate art exhibition and foreshadowed our lack of access to IRL gallery visits during these months beset by COVID. 

Among the many ‘works to know by heart’ included in this real-life ark for culture was Chris Marker’s haunting ‘photo-novel’, or un photo-roman, La Jetée (1962). Composed almost entirely of black-and-white still images, it begins (in French text and English voiceover) with the explanation: ‘This is the story of a man marked by an image of his childhood. The violent scene which upset him and whose meaning he was to grasp only years later happened on the main pier of Orly, Paris airport, sometime after the outbreak of World War III.’

Although there is even more going on in La Jetée than it at first seems, with its mobius strip post-apocalyptic time travel plot, it is hard not to read it as real-life warning: of the threat of nuclear war posed by the USSR and USA. Later that decade, Armageddon still pending, Susan Sontag observed in her essay The Imagination of Disaster that: “Science fiction films are not about science. They are about disaster, which is one of the oldest subjects of art.” Although dealing specifically with films belonging to what was then still thought of as a niche, often pulpy genre, Sontag’s assertion that these movies were about more than cheap special effects was very much on the money.  

Disasters, though, aren’t always as on-the-front-page immediate a threat as a Cold War predicted to soon get very hot. They can be much more insidious than that, and more attritional, spanning decades, even centuries. Harold Offeh’s Hail the New Prophets (2021) is an interactive spaceship that appeals to freedom through speculative thinking. Its audio track of ‘messages for the future’ is in keeping with and inspired by the mythology of self-determination found in the Afrofuturism of jazz musician Sun Ra and writers such as Octavia E Butler. It offers the possibility to reimagine and strive for a better world than the one we see before us today: that of social injustice, residual colonialism and racism; urgent issues perennially brought back into focus, most recently by Black Lives Matter. 

Artists are also harnessing the story-telling potential of science fiction to address impending climate disaster, and the power of tech giants such as Amazon and Google. Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho began working together in 2007 after growing increasingly disillusioned by the artworld they inhabited, and have since dedicated themselves to interrogating how art might relate meaningfully to our lives. To do this, they turned to science fiction. Their 2012 film El Fin del Mundo is part-set in a dystopian future, one where conglomerates fill the vacuum of nation states, offering citizenship and housing in return for servitude and compliance. Their latest work together, about to open at Korea’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, relates to Daeseong-dong, a village that lies on the South Korean side of the demilitarised zone (DMZ). Titled Freedom Village, its world set beyond space and time poses questions about the contradictions in human ideologies and systems.

‘By employing a way to look at the future instead of the present, we wanted to address current issues, especially in relation to what art is and what art could be,’ they have said. And here is one of the central reasons why artists, increasingly it seems, use science fiction as the lens to communicate and magnify their ideas. In Prof. Roger Luckhurst’s essay for Imagining Disaster, he states: ‘to estrange the worlds we live in; to jar us awake from our own dreamworlds, and to see the planet anew’ brings us closer to also imagining the possibility to reset and rethink our own world here and now. As with Afrofuturism, it allows us the space and optimism to create a different, better reality. In her newspaper-style publication for An Imagined Museum, sent from a proposed future in which the very existence of art is under threat, Dora Garcia asserts: ‘Reality is not very real. Anything can happen.’ The future isn’t written, she is saying, we should make of it what we want. Just like they do in science fiction.

Mike Pinnington is a writer and editor based in Liverpool. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of visual arts and cultural commentary publication, The Double Negative. His writing has appeared in international publications, including The Art Newspaper, Art Quarterly, ArtReview, Ocula and byNWR, amongst others. He is currently writing a book about Science Fiction and Contemporary Art.

This essay was commissioned as part of Imagining Disaster: Science Fiction X Contemporary Art.  Join the conversation #ImaginingDisaster

Images: Photo by Aideal Hwa on Unsplash;

Dora Garcia, The Mnemosyne Revolution

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