Welcome to dulltopia and my two favourite angels

Read Mark Bould in ‘Global Dystopias’ by Boston Review

Mark Bould

angelus novusMy essay ‘Dulltopia’ from the ‘Global Dystopias’ issue of Boston Review is now available online – it questions the claims made by Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Zizek about how boring contemporary dystopias are, then imagines these luminaries are right about how boring contemporary dystopias are, and then turns to slow cinema and the examples of Peter B. Hutton’s At Sea (2007) and Mauro Herce’s Dead Slow Ahead (2015), the latter of which I adore.

The essay ends with an allusion to Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, every Marxist’s favourite angel thanks to Walter Benjamin, but in this context dismisses it in favour of an angel every bit as cool from Albrecht Durer’s Melencolia 1 – she is soooooooo bored and really pissed off and her dog is kinda funny looking.
Melencolia_I_(Durero)

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Science fiction in theatre: Callisto – a queer epic

Callisto – first performed in Edinburgh Fringe 2016, is now playing at London’s Arcola theatre until the 23rd of December.  This brilliant and imaginative play packs in so much humour alongside the tragic, the absurd, and the science-fictional, that it is simply unmissable!

Callisto-10.jpgLondon, 1680. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

The play consists of four love stories set in 1680, 1936, 1978-9, and 2223.  The stories talk to each, the text demanding their simultaneous presence on stage at several crucial moments in the play. These instances are key to some of the thematic threads that span the epic, knitting it together. Each viewer might perceive their own connections, beyond the obvious commonality that is part of the title: each story involves a love affair between people of the same sex. The complexity and the wit of the play are dazzling. There are stories within stories. In 1680s London, Arabella Hunt is an opera star, and we first encounter her rehearsing the lines from Cleopatra:

 

[…] and all the world,

is if it were the business of mankind to part us,

is armed against my love: even you yourself

join with the rest; you, you are armed against me

This sentiment echoes through time, the world is armed against homosexual love even when we are on the moon in 2223, albeit this time through its absence – Cal and Lorn are all that is left of homo sapiens, and only one of them is biologically human. Cal is an android that Lorn built, an android those very conscious existence depends on convincing Lorn that he loves him. With humanity having driven itself to extinction, Lorn is afraid of hope, and hence of love.

Callisto-12Lorn and Cal, Moon, 2223. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

Continue reading “Science fiction in theatre: Callisto – a queer epic”

Post-Cyber Feminist International

Glitch @ Night - BBZ London, photo Mark-Blower, no24Post-Cyber Feminist International, Glitch@Night BBZ London (Photo: Mark Blower)

‘A particularly gendered set of obstacles emerges from the contemporary ubiquity and commodification of the digital sphere. From sexual harassment and privacy to issues surrounding divisions of labour, the progress of gender justice has in some ways failed to keep pace with the dizzying velocity of digital developments. At the same time, new networked technologies have come to dominate the horizons of critical discourse, pushing older and more quotidian devices to the margins of cultural visibility. And yet, these domesticated technologies (from the Hoovers to HRT) continue to exert a shaping influence on many people’s everyday lives. It is critical that feminists find new ways of interrogating technologies in order to forge a radical gender politics fit for an era in which the analogue and the digital are inexorably intertwined’ [ICA]

Black Feminism and Post-Cyber Feminism, photoMark-Blower, no27Black Feminism and Post-Cyber Feminism (Photo: Mark Blower)

Post-Cyber Feminist International took place at the ICA between 15-19 Nov 2017, and consisted of a series of events, exhibitions and workshops dedicated to exploring how radical gender politics can shape our technological future. Visual artists, musicians, writers and theorists came together to find new ways of engaging with race, class, gender and to discuss their work-in-progress. Post-Cyber Feminist International showcased interrelated constituents such as sonic feminisms, Black feminism and glitch feminism, celebrating the 20th anniversary of The First Cyberfeminist International (1997). Continue reading “Post-Cyber Feminist International”

Jeremy Shaw’s ‘Liminals’

jeremyJeremy Shaw’s Liminals can be seen at The Store Studios 180 The Strand, until 10th of December 2017. It is the first off-site exhibition by Berlin based KÖNIG Galerie and forms part of their recent expansion to London.

Liminals, a work of Vancouver-born artist Jeremy Shaw, takes the form of a fictional documentary made not more than a couple of decades into our future. From the narration, we reconstruct some of its historical context, although the focus of the documentary is on ‘periphery altruist cultures’. The Liminals are one such sub-cultural group, who are observed by the posited filmmakers with a detached fascination (and a style) reminiscent of the early 20th century ethnographies.

It is far from clear who is the intended audience, because humanity’s days, the documentary reveals, are numbered. Technology is to blame, specifically, choosing to let computation replace ritual. Kieslowski’s warning in the first episode of Decalogue against elevating computers above faith has clearly gone unheeded, and in 2024 all spiritual experiences are replaced by VR via a technological innovation called ‘The Unit’. ‘The Singularity Disaster’ follows in 2033, and soon after ‘The Announcement’ of ‘the countdown to extinction’ is made.

Amongst the general apathy that ensues, radical groups emerge, as they always do – observes the film’s narrator – during the Millenarian periods of history. The most radical of these groups believe that a possible salvation lies in the ideas of ‘pre-Unit’ science fiction writer Samuel Delany, specifically the paraspace:

a specific paraspace could serve as a transitory zone for humanity – an intermediate area between the physical and the virtual where a generative incubation period towards our next phase in evolution could take place. They refer to this paraspace as The Liminal.

The documentary is an exposition of the methods by which The Liminals are trying to reach that paraspace.

 

Book Reviews: ‘The Murders of Molly Southbourne’ and ‘Rosewater’ by Tade Thompson

mollyTade Thompson, whose novel Rosewater was reviewed in Vector earlier this year (see below), has just published a new work of fiction. The Murders of Molly Southbourne is set to appear on screen as well, which is not surprising given the beautifully harrowing images that the novel fosters. It is a work of science fiction which reads like a thriller. It might be bloodier than Cormac McCarthy, yet it has the sweetness of a coming-of-age romance. The emotional confrontation with one’s reading self that ensues (‘should I be enjoying this scene?’), as well as all other inner conflicts, are put into perspective by the novel’s narrative of self-destruction. The science-fictional world of Molly Southbourne is a combination of Cold War past and a low-fertility future. The latter is particularly refreshing given the dominance of overpopulation scenarios in both science fiction and everyday conversations. Tade Thompson’s medical and psychiatric knowledge is always put to good use in his novels, the characters are entirely plausible in their contradictions, and the science is internally consistent and evidently very carefully thought through.

Continue reading “Book Reviews: ‘The Murders of Molly Southbourne’ and ‘Rosewater’ by Tade Thompson”

Exhibition Review: Haroon Mirza/HRM199

Haroon Mirza hrm199_Chamber for Endogenous DMT (Collapsing the Wave Function), 2017. Tim Bowditch, courtesy the artist and ZC Low Res-7734

Haroon Mirza/HRM199 reviewed by Polina Levontin

The Zabludowicz Collection in North London is hosting an art exhibition until December 17, which is of particular interest to the sf community. The commissioned work is by Haroon Mirza, whose own studio is located nearby. The exhibition is titled ‘For a Partnership Society’ and the word partnership is key to thinking about the works presented. Firstly, the exhibition itself is a collaborative project on many levels and in almost all of these collaborations science plays a role. Science is invoked in the exhibition as a subject, for example, when the production of scientific knowledge is being compared to a process of forming other sorts of beliefs. Science appears as an object when the standard theory of physics or excerpts from topology lectures become the material parts of an art installation. A history of science serves as a context for the conversation about the fundamental building blocks of a belief system. Furthermore, both technology and scientific methods are intentionally employed as tools for making the artwork, as well as appearing as subjects for Mirza’s artistic explorations.

The premise of Mirza’s work is that the fictional, the religious, the artistic and the scientific are not separable modes, that ‘science, like art, politics and religion often relies on system of beliefs in its pursuit of truth’ [Zabludowicz Collection]. References to a Pythagorean society which practised mathematics as religion remind the viewer that the pretence of decontextualized objectivity in science is a relatively recent phenomenon.  In his 1984 essay ‘No Apocalypse, Not Now’ Derrida gives another reason for why we should no longer pretend that beliefs and science can be disentwined: technological powers have passed the threshold where the science itself poses an existential threat to humanity. Derrida was referring to nuclear physics, something which Mirza references in almost all the works that are part of the current exhibition. Since 1984, when Derrida wrote ‘one can no longer oppose belief and science, doxa and episteme’ because modern/atomic technology ‘coexists, cooperates in an essential way with sophistry [imagination]’, new technological threats such as AI have emerged.  Mirza’s work is a manifestation of this quote:  the AI and other forms of technology coexist and cooperate in an essential way with his art.

Haroon Mirza hrm199_Pathological Theology, 2017. Tim Bowditch, courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection Low Res-6038

At least one part of the exhibition is literally a scientific experiment, conducted with researchers from Imperial College. In ‘Chamber for Endogenous DMT (Collapsing the Wave Function)’ Mirza constructs a confined sensory deprivation space which is being used by the scientists to explore human perception. Like the scientists, Mirza is interested in the potential of art to influence a state of mind, or even alter the state of mind as much as some psychotropic chemical substances or meditation practices. In a spirit of experimental design and following a framework for scientific investigations, Mirza’s art installations produce a range of sensory input levels – from near complete deprivation to sensory overload.

The scientific method is used by Mirza not just in setting up progressively increasing levels of exposure to sensory inputs, but also in taking a deductive approach as the principle for creating artwork. He dissects, breaks down and analyses various materials (including works of other artists) as a scientist would in trying to understand the basic principles of how something works.  His approach is hierarchical, making explicit different meta-levels. For example, Mirza takes a ‘found’ YouTube video where young Bjork is seen examining the functions of a cathode ray tube and, echoing her curiosity about technology, breaks the wholeness of the video down to expose its more elemental aspects: the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) system of colour projection, the individuality of video frames and how these are cropped, sequenced and made to follow one another at predetermined intervals (24 frames per second).

Haroon Mirza hrm199_The System, 2013, installation view, Tim Bowditch, Courtesy Zabludowicz Collection_Low Res-7017

Mirza’s thesis is that a partnership first and foremost requires the dismantling (or at least the questioning of) barriers. Mirza successfully makes the viewer (even a scientifically trained one like myself) uncertain of where scientific knowledge ends and the pseudo-scientific begins. Science is never presented as an isolated subject, more poignantly, videos with snippets of lectures on topology are shown side-by-side with a commentary on a history of colonialism. The idea that there is only one true system of knowledge is questioned as the viewer is invited to contemplate the standard theory of physics alongside indigenous knowledge systems, shamanic rituals and AI. Topology, colonialism, quantum physics, environmental catastrophes and political upheavals dissolve into one another with the aid of the AI Deep Dream technology.  Cumulatively all these ideas are given an inorganic but seemingly living presence by Mirza who uses an Emerging Paradigm (hrm199) technology to forge a coalescence of synchronised video, sound and led lights.  Mirza’s genius of generating meaning out of seemingly inarticulate materials is evident in the title of this work. It is simply a pair of numbers, ‘9/11 11/9’. Mirza uses the succinctness of mathematical notation to tell a complex story, where an attack on the World Trade Centre becomes conjoined with the 9th of November, the date Trump’s victory in the American election was declared.

Mirza’s many disruptive dualities are designed to induce the kind of ‘cognitive estrangement’ (Darko Suvin) that is characteristic of sf. Further, his preoccupation with science and technology and their interactions with human perception and understanding of reality places his work in the critical space occupied by the theorists of science fiction.

Haroon Mirza hrm199_Pathological Theology, 2017. Tim Bowditch, courtesy the artist and Zabludowicz Collection_Low Res-6124

Southern California Science Fictional Thinking in Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas

Boom California

UCR Arts Block-28

Tyler Stallings

History is written in retrospect. Patterns are sought among seemingly unrelated events at the time of their occurrence. There is never just one historical narrative. Historians make choices about what events to represent and from which perspective, often to the disadvantage of people on the losing end—for example, the colonized or enslaved. Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas provides a space-time continuum for reimagining the past from the perspective of the “alienated” and the “other,” from the peoples marginalized by the powerful. The exhibition includes over thirty contemporary artists who explore interactions of science fiction and the visual arts in Latin America, the U.S., and the intergalactic beyond; collectively laying out a provocative view of arts in the Americas told in the present but with an eye toward future, alternate Americas.

Mundos Alternos is an 11,000-square-foot exhibition, with an accompanying book of the same title…

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