The power of speculative and science fiction in prose—such as in the works of Margaret Atwood, Emily St. John Mandel, China Miéville, and Kazuo Ishiguro—is based on the transformation of technology or science into a metaphor, not to define the future but to describe the present, to explore the existing human condition. Time travel and interstellar space have been used to explore the distance between two people. Clones and robots have helped authors speak about the human soul, or the lack of one. Dystopias and natural or man-made apocalypses—astronomical, biological, chemical, nuclear—have explored the limits of the human will to survive. Rarely has that metaphorical power of technology and science been used effectively in the context of poetry or art.
Curator Samuel Peralta has selected a compilation of science fiction art which reflects both the intellectual and emotional variety of science fiction itself. It is by turns utopian and apocalyptic – technologically “hard” and metaphorically “soft” – fun and tragic – exuberantly colorful and calmly monochromatic.
Chronicles of a Future Foretold
A Poets and Artists exhibition
1029 W 35th St, Chicago
Exhibition Dates: August 17 to September 14, 2018
Opening: Friday, August 17 from 7 to 10 pm
Albert Sultan, Astrid Ritmeester, Brianna Lee, Boris Vallejo, Cheney Lansard, David Molesky, David Versluis, Debra Livingston, Donna Bates, Jan Nelson, John Hyland, Julie Bell, Kelly Matthews, Kerra Taylor, Lauren Bergman, Mariana Duarte Santos, Matthew James Collins, Michael Bergt, Michael Jewula, Pauline Aubey, Shana Levenson, Viktoria Savenkova, Zack Zdrale.
Chronicles of the Future Foretold book available HERE
Daniel Maidman of Poets and Artists previews the exhibition with a few of his personal standouts:
For me, part of the original and primary purpose of science fiction was to project oneself into the city of the future. Sultan’s cityscape captures the fizzing excitement of the soaring city, the city from which one sees only more city in all directions, the city of motion, of disrespect for gravity, of sleek and rapid movement, of a million stories unfolding at once. It captures the excitement of the technological future.
Albert Leon Sultan, Destruction of the Ten Sephirot, oil on canvas, diptych, 60″ x 120″
At another pole of science fiction is the space opera, the age-old adventure story, with its romance and derring-do, reset on other planets, with all the armor, weapons, monsters and powers that territory allows. Vallejo is one of the very few masters who helped to define and extend the look of this particular strain of science fiction.
Boris Vallejo, Not One More Step, oil on board, 28”x20”
There is little of the science fiction set piece about this painting, but it captures the penetrative quality of science fiction, the sense that one will confront the future at the level of the flesh, and the flesh will be transformed. The ant’s-eye view of the human body in confrontation with futurity is an important theme in science fiction, even if it has absolutely failed to help us recognize the sheer weirdness of the cyborg future, which has, in fact, already been here for decades.
Cheney Lansard, Channel X, acrylic on birch, 13”x20”
We see here yet another element of the giant terrain available to science fiction. Here is science fiction as low-budget theater. This is not a denigration at all. It is in the low-budget theater, without the distraction of special effects, with only the simplest of props that we are able to encounter the drama of pure human situations and awaken our imaginations to animate an entire vivid universe.
Kerra Taylor, The Fear, oil on wood panel, 12”x16”
For me, this piece captures an essential element of science fiction as tradition. Childhood is a time of fascination with the future – both the personal future, which will obviously be so different from the present, and the universal future of the species and the cosmos. One thing children do with this fascination is make doodles. This piece is about how science fiction is passed down from one generation to the next, SF-oriented children absorbing their spiritual forebears’ visions of the future as they grow into their own.
Mariana Duarte Santos, The Future Told By The Past, pen and watercolor, 7.4”x15.7”
In my personal experience with the idea of science fiction, there has always been this as well – the recurrence of the past, of all cultures and artifacts; the idea that the past is not lost, and will appear again and again in brightly-colored recombination. It stands in counterpoint to the metallic future, to the premise that the future will represent a brutally clean, utilitarian break from the ornamental and decorative impulses of the entire history of humanity. In the recurrent-past future, culture is a gigantic, shimmering tapestry, visible where it always is – in art, everyday objects, and fashion. Bergt captures that science fiction vision here.
Michael Bergt, Traditions, gouache, color pencil 19.25”x14.5”
Finally, we have Zdrale’s Seer, which answers to the tradition of literary science fiction. It does not take delight in technological design, the enhanced abilities of men and tools, the panorama of the stars. Rather, these form a minimally sketched-in backdrop for exploration of eternal human themes. The hinted-at fires in the distance, the understated performance of powers under the title of seer, these are the least fantastic images one can use, while remaining in the realm of the fantastic, as one seeks to elucidate some fundamental human truth available only through this slight disconnect from the restrictions of the real.
Zack Zdrale, Seer, oil on panel, 24”x18”