On July 20, 1969, the Eagle module from Apollo 11 landed at Tranquility Base on the moon as millions of people around the world watched in astonishment. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this event, it is important to remember how popular culture of the time prepared the people of Earth for the real thing, and Science Fiction, a new exhibition at the Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, gives us an interesting lens to view that era and our own.
While NASA planned a real mission to the moon, movie theaters exploded throughout 1968 with science-fiction films of all stripes, from director Robert Altman’s Countdown (about the space race to the moon) and Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey to Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim’s lighthearted fantasy Barbarella.
Science and fiction, head and heart
Science Fiction at the Berman Museum, curated by Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox, celebrates this integration of science and fiction, the laboratory and the imagination, the head and the heart with 12 well-known artists from around the world who were all born in the 1960s and 1970s.
When visitors first enter, they are entreated to watch a 10-minute video installation called The Ways of Folding Space & Flying by Korean filmmakers Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho. The narrative and visuals convey a strange and stunning vision of the future centered on a young girl clad in white with an antenna sticking out of her wild and white hair. She navigates the past and future within an antiseptic environment.
In another video installation, filmmaker Lucy McRae’s Future Day Spa and Institute of Isolation imagines a world of space tourism (ah, when do the tickets go on sale, Elon Musk?) and examines the connections between flesh and technology, between a robotic experience and a human one. Partnering with Ars Electronica SuperLab, McRae’s second film highlights one woman as she traverses a hauntingly beautiful decrepit building in a suit that monitors her body’s responses to uncertain environments and wonders if the human body “is designed to exist beyond the Earth’s edge.”
Beaches and beehives
Artist Andrew Yang has one of the most impressive installations in this exhibition with his A Beach (for Carl Sagan), a scale model of the Milky Way composed of about seven tons of sand, with each grain representing one star. Above this imposing mountain of sand are radios tuned between FM stations, transmitting static that is in fact the audible cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the Big Bang that created everything we know. The static also sounds like waves crashing on a beach, which completes the metaphor Cosmos host Carl Sagan frequently used for the “billions and billions of stars” in the universe.
The Beehive Grid by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle is based on an 1852 design by Reverend Lorenzo Langstroth to study bees. Thirty-six beehive boxes are part of this large installation, which asks us to think about the destruction of bee habitats by pesticide use and climate change and what their extinction will mean for human survival. Last winter, 40 percent of America’s honeybee colonies were wiped out, part of a larger trend of insects all over the world in rapid decline or extinction. Many scientists believe this “biological annihilation” is evidence of Earth’s sixth mass extinction.
Asteroids and satellites
To bring home this point, Manglano-Ovalle placed a miniature asteroid on top of one of the beehive boxes. Called Apophis, this anodized aluminum sculpture shares the name of an asteroid that, when first discovered by astronomers in 2004, caused fears of a collision with Earth in 2029. Don’t worry—we’ve since learned it’ll miss us, but the miniature asteroid underscores the cautionary tale of our own collective death the bee extinction heralds. Remember the dinosaurs?
The works at the Berman Museum include prints, video, immersive installations, and sculptures. One of my favorites is on the museum’s lawn: Sputnik Returned, by Brandon Vickerd, is a stainless-steel replica of the first satellite to orbit Earth, launched by the Russians. The grass is torn up in an elongated trench, as if the orbiter just fell from the sky and crashed by the museum.
What, When, Where
Science Fiction. Through October 6, 2019, at the Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, 601 East Main Street, Collegeville, PA. (610) 409-3500 or ursinus.edu/berman/.
The Berman Museum’s public galleries are all wheelchair-accessible. A folding wheelchair is available for visitors to borrow on a first-come, first-served basis. For any questions about accessibility, call the museum.