Back to the Future
Open Space show mines 1970s sci-fi speculation
Published: September 26, 2012
At Open Space through Oct. 27
More at weekly.citypaper.com
Just because it looks real doesn’t mean it is. In director Peter Hyams’ 1978 flick Capricorn One, NASA fakes a landing on Mars using a studio set-up that isn’t that different from Chris Rackley’s “Walk-in Crater” contraption in Open Space’s Future Daze group show. Think rear-projection special effect: a large crater painting is set a few feet in front of a digital camera. A small three-dimensional mock-up of the crater’s front edge is mounted right in front of the camera lens, such that, on the TV monitor, anything behind the 3-D mock-up and in front of the painting looks like it’s in outer space. A writer taking notes can stand behind the camera’s lens, stick his hand into view, and create his own really uninspired onscreen composition: “Still Life with Finger on the Moon.”
What will tomorrow look like? That’s been a genuine question for creative minds since at least the beginning of the 19th century, when the precursors to science fiction greats like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne paired the promise of science with humanity’s frailties. Think: Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) and Alexander Veltman’s The Forebears of Kalimeros: Alexander, son of Philip of Macedon (1836)—though stories of the impossible and uncanny are found in folklore and mythology, the Enlightenment midwifed books of utopian musings, and Syrian writer Lucian of Samosata imagined voyages to the moon about 2,000 years ago. In the 20th century, such ideas have been channeled through pulp magazines, comics, and television and movies, each successive evolution informed by and responding to the past. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) depicted the future as a place of such technological human achievement that it is operating-room clean, with an executive-suite corporate attitude. Blade Runner (1982), on the other hand, saw the future as a place of overabundant technological human achievement, with cluttered cities and a claustrophobic, discount-shopping corporate attitude.
In between those two cinematic poles lies the decade informing the sci-fi speculations of Future Daze: the 1970s (full disclosure: City Paper staffer Jasmine Sarp is a member of Open Space). This was the decade of cinematic sci-fi delving into government conspiracy paranoia (see: Capricorn One, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), trompe l’oeil dazzle pushing genre mysticism (Star Wars), descents into dystopian apprehensions (THX 1138, Logan’s Run, The Omega Man), and utter batshittery (Zardoz, A Boy and His Dog, Embryo). It was an era marked by disaster fears. It was a decade of Middle East unrest. It was a decade of being suspicious of elected officials and “official” versions of facts. It was a decade where a previous decade’s war wouldn’t end, where China posed a legitimate economic threat to U.S. hegemony, where the religious right overtook the conservative right, where women had to fight for control over their bodies. My, how times have changed.
Michael Schall’s two highly detailed graphite-on-paper drawings tap into this reservoir of nonspecific uncertainty. Both “Digging the Largest Hole on Earth” and “Pool of Light” quietly capture the immensity of something being not quite right. In the former, a gaggle of mechanical cranes remove earth to create the titular cavity; in the latter, a solitary beam partially illuminates a brushy clearing and sheer cliff face straight out of Ansel Adams. In both, the why behind the activity remains not merely inexplicable but unutterable. That feeling of a nearby void becomes manifest in Schall’s striking “The Accident,” a monotype print that depicts some kind of factory in the background. The majority of the composition is occupied by an explosive wash of ink creating a gaping white space where something used to be.
Sitting in the center of Open Space’s main gallery space, Erica Prince’s “Released From Orbit” puts its observers where nothing usually is. The floor-installed installation could be a low-tech planetary systems map. Red and black tubes extend up from the grid of mirrored tiles—the sort of wall decoration that accompanies sunken living rooms and split-level homes—and arch over before meeting up with the mirrored floor again, as if some ringed planet bisected by the floor. Right smack in the center is a half globe of lights emitting chandelier sunshine. Anybody standing nearby is cast into this solar system, his or her reflected body moving around like an astronaut adrift.
Christopher Forgues, aka the comics artist known as CF of Low Tide and Powr Mastrs and as the collage brain behind the electronic music act Kites, offers 13 5-by-8-inch graphite-on-paper works that could be individual pages from a larger comics story. He’s an ingenious visual storyteller, his panels taking the brain on bizarre journeys where a man imagines himself as baby Jesus flying around and exploding himself with his mind. Such head trips continue in the digital prints of Alan Resnick and Robert Beatty. Resnick’s two images are like highly mannered versions of conventional still lifes—a box topped with a padded sheet of some kind, an orange mass sitting inside a green sheet atop a wood block—but something about them feels suspicious. There’s a hole in the padded sheet in the former, and you’re afraid to reach inside to find out what might be there. Beatty dives straight into the otherness with his four untitled prints. Album-sized at 12-by-12 inches, Beatty’s imagery is Nintendo glossy and casually abstract, and reads as microbiological—though perhaps not an earthly biology.
Jess Wheelock toys with time in her video installation, “Pushing Back Avalanches.” YouTube-cribbed footage of an avalanche descending a mountain is projected on a wall; nearby is an ordinary floor pump. Push the pump and the footage pauses; keep pushing and the avalanche moves back up the mountain, erasing the damage it has already inflicted—as long as the pumping is maintained. It’s a playfully cruel articulation of the vanity of trying to stop time’s inexorable march forward.
Yes, T.S. Eliot, all time is unredeemable. Today will end. So, again: what will tomorrow look like? If the thought is too much to endure, the wily Lisa Dillin has just the thing. Her “Natural Lighting Emulator” is installed in Open Space’s smaller gallery just off the main space, and it’s fabulously tranquil. Three bean-bag chairs line the floor beneath a drop ceiling into which Dillin has carved out shapes that bring to mind a planetarium or an archipelago chart or a map to some hitherto unknown place. Recessed lights cast an azure glow through the room. It’s the perfect comfortable, distracting place to retreat to when the bombs start falling. Or the asteroid hits. Or the virus runs amok. Or the machines revolt. Or the aliens invade. Or man can’t control that thing he created. Or . . .
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