Limits of Utopia in outer-space: Contemporary sci-fi art representations | MARIANA ZIKU



“Oh, hell! I can’t sleep!” “Neither can I! But I might as well try — as a matter of principle.” Twelve hours later, sleep was still just that — a matter of principle, unattainable in practice. The storm had arrived ahead of schedule, and Donovan’s florid face drained of blood as he pointed a shaking finger. Powell, stubble-jawed and dry-lipped, stared out the port and pulled desperately at his mustache. Under other circumstances, it might have been a beautiful sight. The stream of high-speed electrons impinging upon the energy beam fluoresced into ultra-spicules of intense light. The beam stretched out into shrinking nothingness, a-glitter with dancing, shining motes.

Isaac Asimov, I robot


Powell and Donovan were at the Solar Station No. 5 wherefrom Earth could be recognized only as a very bright spot on the sky, waiting in great anxiety the outcome of the space storm that could put off track the Beamset-machine with the tragic consequence to bump and turn the Earth into incandescent pieces.

Many visionaries of Science Fiction in the middle of the last century have been dating the first space journeys of humanity in this decade. Outer space in the present belonged in advance to the people as a place of a new everydayness. However, the expectations have already been disproved. The relationship between humans and space is still in its infancy, limited mainly in cases of repair and maintenance of artificial satellites which tour in close orbit around the Earth. Even longer space missions which are planned within the solar system aren’t manned, while robot-machines that accompany them have little to do with the glazed humanoids which obey with the help of their positronic brains to the Three Robotic Laws of Isaac Asimov.

However, the improved observation and tracing tools of space-phenomena provide attractive visual, acoustic and scientific views for the contemporary sci-fi phantasiology which is more or less abound, but at the same time is gradually and despondently being cut off from its veritable realization. Outer space does no longer belong in advance to the people; it has already been occupied by giant business companies and simultaneously it’s operating as the primary programming platform for the global militaristic plans.

Without effective access to the space area, the contemporary collective imagination contains dedramatized projections, without any prospect for including protagonists in the near future to implement the once expected vision of a democratized opportunity for an outer space contact.

The emerging Sci-fi artistic production arranges its own dystopic traces. A variety of art-projects may invoke internalized experiences that are substantially unknown, or create more realistic and exo-tic versions of the Sci-fi thematic deposit.

Left: Sam Burford: "Curling Over Self" (Timelapse photographic detail of the opening shot from Star Wars IV, 2010) | Right: Arish Kapoor: "Cloud Gate" & Luftwerk: "Luminous Field" (interactive video design with sound at Chicago's Millennium Park. Opening Feb. 10, 2012) Photographer: Natasha Jelezkina


What remains after a contact with “sci-fi innervated artworks” is an experience doomed to switch into inner twists, indisposed to be actually transloaded into reality. The gradual conquest of technology where new scientific knowledge is being gathered is a valuable prey for terrestrial purposes, yet slow-moving and expensive for space-missions.

Astronomical observatories gather images and informations of the universe topology, however, an interactive contact with this spectacular stock is still a scenario of … mythical fantasy.

With precisely this legacy of the mythological universe does the new sci-fi artistic production converse, providing new forms to the mystic essences of the panhuman fantasy. The pathways of Science-Fiction on the mythological map were an expected  sequence. The impracticable of Science Fiction to be integrally fulfilled in reality causes its creators to immerse themselves into archetypical symbols and mythical characters which spurt the energy force to clothe the artwork towards repulsing its spiritual silence, its obliterated annunciation.

Joshi Sodeoka: "Universe/ Calibration" (Piece from an ongoing psychedelic/ambient video project, Sibyl 2012)


In "Sibyl", a video-project in progress, Yöshi Sodeöka is inspired from the ancient Greek mythology, the shamanic rituals and the progressive rock albums of the '70s to visualize his own narration of the universal calibration. The metaphysical philosophy and the mystical religionism are being filtered through new perspectives which may invocate future visions or may represent ventures of a present alternative apperception. The switching images in Yöshi Sodeöka’s video create an epileptic mood, a situation of an almost hypnotized observation that may bring the viewer closer with the projection of a more universal experience.

The unsubstantial experience of these psychedelic interfaces remains within the limits of virtual reality no matter how transcendentally it may be transferred. This transgression of virtual reality together with the integration of artistic activities in more holistic contexts with the willpower to place them toward space technology, is promoted by “The Arts Catalyst”, an organization that implements artists’ projects which interact with technology issues since the 90s. The founder and director of the foundation Nicola Triscott also led to the creation of the committee ITACCUS in 2008 (Technical Activities Committee for the Cultural Utilization of Space). "Kosmica", the recent supported project of the Committee, is being set up as a number of conferences which attempt to promote discussions and studies concerning the alternative and cultural uses of the space-field, through the presentation of technological-artistic activities and philosophical thoughts. The Kosmica conference in Paris, which took place on March 11th, focused on artists working with satellites.

The projects are inspiring, though the difficulties in the junctions of art and technology require an extensive mobilization of the various competent constitutions which will welcome and highlight such initiatives. This collaboration is as far at an early stage and an adequate number of promoted artistic operations remain in poetic simulations, inspired by fictional narration themes of the past, nevertheless with innovative references. For the project "Moon Goose Analogue", artist Agnes Meyer-Brandis nurtures and instructs 11 geese in an exhibition of an analogue lunar-simulation station until the moment the geese will be ready to migrate, carrying her to the moon. The idea is based on the 17th century book "The Man in the Moone" of an english bishop named Francis Godwin. Godwin composed the fiction while referring to some of the most groundbreaking scientific theories of his time as Galileo, Kepler and Copernicus. Agnes Meyer-Brandis recreates this intriguing story of the christian clergyman which is paradoxical considered as the first literary work of science fiction, linking the scientific observations of her project with reformations of the imagination, of the narrative art and the wondrous utopias.

Agnes Meyer-Brandis, "Mobile Moon Training, The Moon Goose Colony", 2011,VG-Bildkunst 2011/12, photographer: Tamara Lorenz

Although it is easy to be condemned as annoying whimsicals, artistic expressions of that kind are offered as wombs of imaginary cogitations which strike upon the present relentless technocracy, pointing at the space’s broad conversion from economic mechanisms that ignore the social pleasures and benefits of an alternative development.

The new production of artworks with relation to sci-fi, routes the re-entrancing of outer-space, a creative effort with the ability to recall the social interest which has been lost somewhere after the "cold" competition among the U.S.’s and the Soviet’s space missions. With a reversed motion of the action’s origin, this time with art as the conjunction-tube along with our secret, individual receptions, it’s perhaps the appropriate time, even stealthy as it may be, for the transformation of the vast, uncanny space in a refuge of new possibilities for the people. The three-day conference entitled: "Envisioning Limits-Outer Space and the End of Utopia", an initiative of the Free University of Berlin in April 2012, doesn’t announce a renegade turn, but rather the coherent response of a scientific alliance that is gaining more and more supporters, a wishful apprehension for the end of utopia and the rise of visions which will outwit today’s limits, balancing between the possible impractical and the practical impossible ...

Photo of the Exhibition "Republic of the Moon" (FACT-London, European Touring Exhibition, 2012) Photographer: Brian Slater