Installation views of Alienarium 5 at Serpentine South in London by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster

The rise and rise of science fiction

Sci-fi is a dominant feature of the London exhibition scene at the moment, appearing in shows from the Hayward to the Barbican, Somerset House Studios to the Serpentine Galleries. Why does this genre speak to us so much right now?

Science fiction been around for centuries. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which will appear as part of a forthcoming show at the Science Museum in October, joining the many other sci-fi shows dominating London’s big institutions right now, was written in 1818. Yet despite its heritage, the genre seems to be the trend of the moment. What on earth is going on?

For Ekow Eshun, curator of In the Black Fantastic at the Hayward Gallery, it’s part and parcel of a wider cultural moment which can be seen in galleries but also on cinema and TV screens, in games, and in popular music. His exhibition gathers 11 contemporary artists whose work is informed by science fiction, Afrofuturism, or speculative fiction, which encompasses all of the above plus fantasy and myth more generally.

“I’ve been putting this show together for a couple of years and during that time, and before, what I’ve noticed in visual art and across popular culture is a whole range of artistic and creative output by Black visual artists, Black musicians, Black writers that draws on elements of fantasy, that draws on elements of speculative fiction – the Black Panther film, Beyonce’s Lemonade, the Atlanta TV show, for example,” he says.

“Fantasy, and science fiction in general, is the kind of lingua franca of our time,” he continues. “It’s a subject matter in popular culture in general, and creative thinkers are using the popularity of fantasy as a medium within which to explore Black experience, to think about this as a psychological and emotional condition.”

Installation views of Alienarium 5 at Serpentine South in London by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster
Top and above: Installation views of Alienarium 5 at Serpentine South in London by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. Photos: Hugo Glendinning. © The artist and Serpentine, 2022.

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