Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction

Things to do, Exhibitions
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Many people see science fiction as the preserve of crater-faced, four-eyed virgins. There’s something about the combination of aliens, spaceships, nerdy science and dorky storylines that’s, you know, alienating. But science fiction, for all its niche appeal, is also big business, and has been having a major impact on mainstream culture for years. This lovingly curated show in the Barbican’s curve gallery, with some bits and pieces dotted around other parts of the building, makes a strong case for science fiction as something more important, influential and appealing than any doubter might think.

The show is a treasure trove, a mish-mash of elements. There are nineteenth-century drawings, Soviet postcards, props from Hollywood films, ads from the ’60s and art by major contemporary artists such as Conrad Shawcross and Isaac Julien.

It’s not all great: the wall panels are a bit waffly and impenetrable, there are too many boring semi-pointless cabinets of books and the mixture of art, literature, film, props, drawing, postcards etc can be incredibly jarring. Jumping from a film clip to a work of art with no context takes a bit of a mental leap.

But shag me with a facehugger and call me Shai Hulud, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a low-lit journey through space, science and Hollywood. Vader’s mask, original drawings from Dune, a massive spinning robot by Shawcross – it throws you head first into science fiction as a concept and you really don’t want to leave.

The problem is, arch nerds like yours truly will find endless omissions and holes to pick at, and sci-fi newbies will find it all boring. So the show is aimed squarely at the sci-fi toe-dipper. But hey, that’s pretty much everyone.

What it’s REALLY missing is some bombastic statement about how bloody brilliant science fiction is, how it sets out a world of paths for your future, how it untangles the realities of today, how when nothing makes sense, science fiction provides a universe of possible answers. The show doesn’t say that out loud, but it does imply it. I’m convinced – you might be, too.


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