Science Fiction: New Death at FACT

Laura Robertson
Photoshopped image of a woman watering a tree coming through her floor in a futuristic living room

This latest exhibition at Liverpool’s FACT continues the trend of examining how technology is changing our lives, via a disturbing and disorientating group show.

Ever feel like life is increasingly turning into science fiction? Anyone who saw the recent selfie-gone-viral by David Cameron (how appropriate is it to tweet a picture of oneself discussing the Ukranian crisis anyway?) must have wondered whether we are living in a future we deserve. A world of endless connectivity, where the serious and the ridiculous are all played out and analysed online, is hardly the utopia we imagined. Where’s the tech that makes our lives better, more enjoyable and more fulfilled?

It is this sense of the absurd and the depressing that is explored by FACT’s new exhibition, Science Fiction: New Death (27 March-22 June). Rather than feature the hover cars or alien interventions promised in the sci-fi of the 1950s, this is a look at the mundane, and sometimes terrifying, reality of the science and technology already gripping our lives – and where it is taking us.

Where’s the tech that makes our lives better?

This is a skilful and relevant follow-up from the venue; its previous exhibition Time and Motion: Redefining Working Life sought to explore some of these very timely issues through the prism of the eight-hour day. The artists featured in Science Fiction: New Death delve into a near future simultaneously more real and more disconnected. They grapple with the narcissistic tone of the selfie as deftly as with drone warfare, internet uprisings, social media hell and video game-esqe deaths. The exhibition is led by award-winning British science fiction author China Miéville (Perdido Street Station, Iron Council, The City & the City), whose newly commissioned short texts share the exhibition’s name and are the inspiration for its themes. The aim is to challenge the senses and ask deeper questions about how technology is shifting our everyday lives.

Taking heavy influence from seminal, new wave sci-fi author J.G. Ballard – who predicted happy slapping, reality tv, twenty-four-hour shopping and the decline of high rise living in his apocalyptic novels – exhibition curator Omar Kholeif confides that the original idea actually came from growing up around Scientology as a child in LA.  “Los Angeles is also a very Ballardian city. His Crash was stuck in my mind. Then when I started talking to China Miéville about the project, the idea came about to create a Ballardian, fractured and fragmented narrative – a set of experiences that spoke of and to our time,” says Kholeif.

And that it does. Science Fiction: New Death features new installation A Privilege, Not a Right by artist and technologist James Bridle (exploring the process and consequences of contemporary exile), psychotic video artist Ryan Trecartin’s Tommy-Chat Just E-mailed Me (a “narrative video short that takes place inside and outside of an e-mail”), and the UK premiere of Jae Rhim Lee’s The Infinity Burial Project (an environmentally-friendly mushroom death suit, used to decompose the human body after death). Visitors can expect a surreal and often disturbing take on a new kind of reality; and one that is unfortunately more science fact rather than fiction.

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