“It is a journey of science fiction through different chapters. Extraordinary voyages, space odysseys, final frontiers, how we actually map the world, explore it, under the sea and into the earth,” says Patrick Gyger, curator of Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction, the huge exhibition that is landing at the Barbican this summer. “Then you leave that world and go to the moon, to space, a massive movement of discovery. After, you go back to the world, but have a utopian take, then you go inside yourself, think of AI and cybernetics. The human consciousness and body are the new playing field.”
For Patrick an interest in the subject was sparked as a teenager. “For me, it was literature, when I was about eight or seven I’d say, the works of Ray Bradbury or J.G Ballard, those big writers from the golden age of science fiction. It’s an age where you’re learning so much,” he says. “The sense of being a bit more ready for a sense of adventure, a discovery trip that appeals more than later on in your life.”
The most popular proponents of science fiction, Star Wars or the works of Steven Spielberg still pack cinemas the world over, and the genre has seen resurgence in recent years through television series such as Stranger Things or Black Mirror. The scope of the exhibition is wide but relevant, and a major exhibition that encompasses the genre’s many realms, or rather worlds, is perfectly timed.
The audience for Into the Unknown is vast. Patrick’s role, with the help of an international team of experts and curators, was to wrangle the themes that span literature, film, art, design, speculative thinking, and more into a celebration of science fiction that offers great insight, but has broad appeal. “It’s not niche, everybody has actually read some, seen some, and almost everybody has enjoyed some of it. A lot of people say they don’t like science fiction but when you say, so you don’t like 1984 or Brave New World, they understand that a dystopian novel, set in the future is science fiction too,” he says.
Patrick’s involvement with the exhibition began after running a science fiction museum in Switzerland and then contemporary art exhibits. “When Barbican approached me and asked what my take would be on a science fiction exhibit I asked ‘What part?’ When they said all of it, I really didn’t think it could be done as a wider topic.” However the Barbican’s determined intent for the project is what convinced the curator to get on board. “I said if you want to do it, keep it broad, film, comics, original and commissioned art, you have to be ambitious. I wouldn’t have agreed otherwise, I’ve done over 30 exhibitions on the subject, I thought I was done with the field. But it’s really striking now, the fact that a mainstream art venue is doing this show is really interesting.”
“We weren’t writing a book or making a film,” Patrick tells It’s Nice That. “You have to come up with objects and artworks that display that narrative.” The preparation for Into the Unknown, began two years ago. “We went to film studios, the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, the Seattle museum of science fiction trying to get models and manuscripts. There is a lot of items for everybody, we tried to strike that balance between high culture and pop culture, the whole spectrum has to be covered.”
Into the Unknown will make use of the entire complex of the brutalist Barbican centre, itself a post-war utopian project that embodies so many of the values examined in the show. Outside of the display in the Curve Gallery there will be film screenings “in the shadow of the Barbican’s towers,” music performances, a public programme of talks, republished Penguin classics, commissioned work from artist Conrad Shawcross in The Pit theatre and even a prototype for a space craft by Trevor Paglen hanging in the entrance to the Barbican foyers. Still, this is only naming a few of the exhibitions factors. “From transcripts from 2001: A Space Odyssey, to items like Darth Vader’s helmet or commissioned work by Double Negative which has created an installation around Ava from Ex Machina, which won an Oscar,” says Patrick. “It’s that experience of science fiction, going back to the sense of wonder, the journey of discovery for both a 12-year-old girl or a 60-year-old man. We aren’t trying to please everybody, but rather include items that appeal to everybody.”
Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction opens at the Barbican Centre, London on 3 June.
For more information about the programme of events and exhibition click here.
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