The Legacy of Science Fiction

A festival-style exhibition delves into the storytelling roots of science fiction, a genre which has captured imaginations around the world for decades. The unprecedented show takes over the entirety of the Barbican Centre, London, in a celebration of the field through literature, contemporary art, film, music, comic books and video games. Into the Unknown offers a fresh, global perspective on the medium.

From classics to modern commissions, someone of which have never been shown in the UK, the show challenges visitors’ perceptions of the genre. Four chapters investigate the major motifs of science fiction, with over 200 books, original manuscripts, 60 clips from TV and cinema, a selection charting the most memorable cinematic moments, alongside unseen footage, adverts, film props and concept art.

Patrick Gyger, Curator, said: “Science Fiction is responsible for some of the world’s most iconic film, music, literature and art. Today, the interaction between digital, virtual and physical spheres further blurs the boundaries between it and our current reality. From 19th century cabinets of curiosities to cyberpunk, Into the Unknown takes a fresh and, at times, subversive look at the new territories, lost worlds, cosmic possibilities and virtual universes that traverse the broadest parameters of human imagination and yet are often instantly relatable.”

The most common themes associated with the category, such as the moon, alien contact and foreign planets, are examined in Space Odysseys. A new interactive commission from motion graphic specialists Territory Studio, based on Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015), recreate a sequence from the movie’s NASA mission control set. Other specific pieces include artwork from Frank R. Paul, known for the influence of his 1920s magazines covers on the genre, and compositions from surrealist artist HR Giger, who realised the concept of Scott’s earlier Alien (1979).  In Extraordinary Voyages, man’s fascination with the inaccessible and undiscovered areas of planet Earth is traced, documenting the spaces in which the narratives of the group first took root.

As well as looking back, Into the Unknown examines science fiction’s related to reality, with the section Brave New Worlds investigating the spaces and societies of contemporary life that mankind has created, from skyscrapers, vast underground networks and extending to the dystopian worlds of wars and disasters. Final Frontiers, the last dimension of the show, pushes the boundaries of science and technology to question human existence in the universe.

Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction, Barbican Centre, London, from 3 June – 1 September.

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1. Trevor Paglen, Prototype for a Non-functional Satellite (2013). Courtesy of Trevor Paglen Studio and the Barbican Centre.