Earth, but not as we know it: Spaceship Unbound at Castlefield Gallery

Phoebe Hurst
Manchester art, Spaceship Unbound, Castlefield Gallery

The Gallery’s latest exhibition is all about landscapes – post-apocalyptic, dystopian and unexplored.

Imagine a world where the human race has been obliterated by a flesh-rotting virus, gene-splicing has created pigs with human brains and a community of lone survivors must work to preserve an ailing ecosystem. This dystopian landscape is the setting of Margaret Atwood’s 2009 novel, The Year of the Flood and the starting point for Spaceship Unbound at Castlefield Gallery. Co-curated with Manchester creative community MadLab, the exhibition uses Atwood’s post-apocalyptic imaginings to explore survivalist culture and the future manifestations of environmentalism.

Beginning with such a broad vision has allowed Castlefield Gallery to collaborate with groups outside the art world. “We are interested in including people or groups who neither define themselves as artists nor have gone through mainstream art education, alongside artists who have,” says curator Clarissa Corfe. “Our collaboration with MadLab is a really exciting one because it enables us to work with networks who bring entirely different perspectives and skills to the exhibition.” Alongside MadLab, GameJam hosts a series of all-day gaming sessions while the community-run technology club, Hackspace Manchester exhibits a series of “solar jars” that capture the Sun’s rays in silicone.

We have included people who do not define themselves as artists

Despite an emphasis on interactive technology, Spaceship Unbound also aims to capture the tension between scientific development and the natural world. “The title of the project is a reference to a phrase ‘Spaceship Earth’ that was first coined by political economist Henry George to express concern about the limited natural resources available on the earth,” explains Corfe. Anne-Marie Culhane’s Corn Dollies responds to this by reflecting on the controversy linked to genetically modified crops and writers’ network, Dark Mountain explores the disillusionment that often surrounds environmentalism.

Of course, you can’t have a spaceship without aliens and a “performance drawing” by the suitably-named Volkov Commanders showing a journey from outer space to earth engulfs the gallery’s wall as a chart of “the unseen hemisphere.” With its depictions of global disorder, a natural world in turmoil and time travelling aliens, Spaceship Unbound shows that even worlds as fantastical as Atwood’s are closer than we’d like to imagine.

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