Aliens in Manchester and East Anglia. Roy Gray Investigates.
Alien Nation Exhibition
Saturday 17 March 2007 - Monday 7 May 2007
Closed Mondays except Bank Holidays
Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3JL
Then later at the Sainsbury Art Gallery, Norwich, October 2nd to December 9th 2007.
The official website states that the Alien Nation Exhibition:
“…explores the relationship between science fiction, race and contemporary art. Twelve contemporary international artists use science fiction and extra-terrestrial forms to explore racial difference as a metaphor for the threat of the outsider.”
“… presents the work of twelve contemporary international artists all of whom explore themes of ‘otherness’ and ‘difference’ through the language and iconography of sci-fi.”
… and “will also show a collection of original sci-fi film posters from the 1950’s to present day, … as well as extracts from contemporary and archive science fiction films…”
“… is an inIVA and ICA touring exhibition supported by the Arts Council England and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.”
Manchester Art Gallery’s classical front end connects to a contemporary rear filled with more modern exhibits. ‘Alien Nation’ caps this latter building away from the Holman Hunt, Lowry, Rossetti, Canaletto etc paintings in the classical galleries.
The exhibition is dedicated to Nigel Kneale and his Quatermass and the Pit was running silently on a TV in the media gallery of the exhibition. Black and white 50’s SF movies (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, It Came from Outer Space, The Thing) were running on other screens in that space but the soundtrack overhead was Orson Wells’ 1938 radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Colourful pulpish posters from Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still and similar 50’s movies filled one wall but where was the credit for the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s pulp magazine covers that predated, and surely influenced, the movie posters?
A second gallery contained a separate darkened room that echoed with the clacking of the five projectors of a, can I say, ‘avante garde’ 16 mm ‘film installation’, plus a video installation, objects, images, and murals.
Mario Ybarra Jnr’s giant mural Brown and Proud impressed me with its busy scenes benevolently presided over by Zapata on one side and Chewbacca in opposition. The exhibition programme suggests they are seen as partners, both rebels facing powerful empires, “whether galactic or earthly”. However for me the cigar smoking ‘Chewy’ prompted thoughts of Castro. I was puzzled by the letters ‘SMS’ in the lower right corner of this mural. Maybe it was a reference to texting but I immediately thought of the Interzone cover and SF artist SMS. The mural’s main female image toted a life and (male) pride threatening AK 47. As a Jim Burns Interzone cover she would bring a host of threats to cancel subscriptions.
Kori Newkirk’s Merck, a curtain maybe 3 metres high and at least a metre wide, made from coloured ponybeads threaded on braided hair was a very effective SF image of an American small town split by a strange vertical yellow beam.
My favourite was Hew Locke’s installation Golden Horde, a bejewelled and beweaponed space fleet, its large spacecraft reminiscent of both Star Wars and the ornate howdahs of a Raja’s wedding.
As an art critic I have serious failings so here are links to reviews by those with a better pedigree:
http://marcusdruen.blogspot.com/search/label/Hackney Sorry, no useful images.
http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/london/news/ART42204.html : Good images of the exhibition but not the space fleet.
In summary the gallery is well worth a visit and, while there or in central Manchester, you might as well look in on the Alien Nation exhibition but if you know the gallery and/or live a distance from Manchester then you won’t miss a lot if you can’t get there before May 7th.