Turns out, aliens stink. And they’re hairy too. You can see for yourself, because there’s one here at the Serpentine. You peek through a little peephole in the wall and there it is in the dark, a gargantuan hirsute apparition on an undulating golden carpet, its scent wafting through the space, a heady mixture of wood, metal, dust and sweat.
This is Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s guest, dropping down to earth to visit her purpose-built ‘alienarium’, an environment in which to imagine future encounters with new alien species.
The central space is covered by a mural, a ‘Sgt Pepper’-style collage of sci-fi and art figures. You spot David Bowie, Yayoi Kusama and Tilda Swinton in among the satellites, spaceships and portraits of sci-fi authors. Strewn on the floor are cushions covered with the artwork of classic sci-fi novels by brilliant writers like Ursula K Le Guin, John Brunner, Joanna Russ and Stanislaw Lem.
I’d love to say I thought there was some big overarching concept at play here, but really this just feels like a super-nerdy, ultra-passionate love letter to science fiction, to its power to make you consider new ideas, imagine new futures and hope for new outcomes. And it’s great: an intense trip into Gonzalez-Foerster’s passion for the genre.
There’s a creature floating past you made of millions of luminescent filaments undulating in the vacuum
There’s a VR element to the show too, which places visitors inside an alien body, staring out through space at other species. There’s a creature floating past you made of millions of luminescent filaments undulating in the vacuum, another with a body like a shoal of fish, one composed of chunks of pulsating light. This isn’t VR at its best, but it’s an absorbing enough voyage into space.
The rest of the show is made up of a gyrating alien jellyfish seen through a window from outside the gallery and a wobbly sculpture out in the park. Everything is marked by that alien odour. But the main thing you get from this exhibition is a vibe. Gonzalez-Foerster’s vision of possible alien encounters is very original-series ‘Star Trek’: it’s utopian, hopeful and positive. She’s created an environment for welcoming aliens, a space to show them that – despite all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – humanity is good. We create art and literature, we’re peaceful, loving and kind, and we’ll be ready to accept them with open arms.
Like all great sci-fi, this show uses the future as a metaphor for how humans should be behaving in the present. In a galaxy of infinite diversity in infinite combinations, Gonzalez-Foerster wants to show that Earth is a place where aliens will be able to live long and prosper. Let’s hope she’s right.