Alienarium 5

This immersive exhibition transports you to an otherworldly extraterrestrial future
By Arijana Zeric | Art | 18 April 2022

Experimental artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster is currently showing her second solo exhibition in London after her 2008 Tate Turbine Hall installation, and this time she’s taking us intergalactic time-hopping. 

Titled Alienarium 5 (a reference to Kurt Vonnegut’s brilliant 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five), the multi-layered – and multi-world – work encompasses the Serpentine Gallery’s interior and exterior space. Conceived as a culmination of her decades-long interest in sci-fi and alien life, the work launches us out of orbit, observing our own planet from an otherworldly perspective. 

Inside, ambient space drones echo around the space as light sources glow like UFO headlights. A VR experience takes you into the eye of a starstorm, holographic aliens surround the gallery and distant abstract sculptures have landed in the gardens. At the centre of the exhibition is Metapanorama, a conventional 360-degree diorama depicting strange worlds amongst our own. A vast mural evoking a 60s vision of the future, alien landscapes are here populated by Earthly cultural figures: JG Ballard, Alan Turing, David Bowie’s Man Who Fell to Earth, Tilda Swinton, Henry Moore sculptures, jellyfish and anti-war protests, to name but a few.

Below, we speak to Gonzalez-Foerster about the exhibition and whether the alien invasion is near.

Arijana Zeric: You talk about reinventing the panorama, can you explain this in the context of your work?
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster: The panorama is an exhibition form from the 19th century. It was a way to experience other cities and landscapes before the cinema was invented. In big cities like Paris or London there were many panoramas, these round, circular constructions in which artists combined landscapes with 3D objects to give you an experience of another world. I love dioramas as a different form of perception. There are still panoramas in Belgium, in Switzerland, and there is the Waterloo panorama, but most of them have been destroyed. Maybe cinemas will disappear one day as a device or a set of technology and be replaced by something else. I think reviving the panorama is a way of giving room to the history of exhibition, because it’s an incredible invention to show how people relate to spaces. In this context, the pavilion standing in the park contains the idea of a possible experience. All of this leads to what I call the meta-panorama, so it’s the panorama of the panoramas, because it contains all the inspiration and bibliography for this exhibition – you can find different roots in this work. It’s a landscape where you’re standing in another world and looking at planet Earth. This experience of looking at Earth from far away is often described by people as very transformative because you see the planet as something contained. 

AZ: And how significant is London within this context?
DG-F: From Mary Shelley to Katharine Burdekin, who is less famous but as important, to H.G. Wells and other authors, science fiction and speculative fiction is a very important part of London and British culture. When I think about London I think about J.G. Ballard, and the panorama is also very much part of the Victorian era. London is such a cultural laboratory for music and visual arts but it’s very specific, and for me always very stimulating. The Turbine Hall exhibition was also driven by that context.

AZ: There are similarities with Sir Peter Blake’s famous Sgt. Pepper Beatles cover in your panorama.
GD-F: Totally! It’s really in that pop culture spirit. The idea that you can bring together a contemporary singer and someone like Anna Kavan, who was an amazing writer. ll of this can co-exist. The collage is a Dadaist invention and then it became part of pop culture but I think it’s a tool, like the panorama, to bring things together. I also like to mention hypertext, which is another level of the panorama and of the collage as a way to visualise what our mind maps can be. You will generate your own panorama, these are just protagonists and figures brought together in this space.

AZ: You can definitely see influences and imagery drawing on that very optimistic, 60s vision of the future.
GD-F: Absolutely. I’m a child of the 60s so I embody all of that. I grew up in a modernist environment, with all those films and literature. 

AZ: Do you think we will one day inhabit other planets?
GD-F: I’m praising the encounter.

AZ: There is a strong concept of visitors being part of the artwork. Why is interaction so important to you?
GD-F: The idea of simply looking is normative and reduced. I’m more in favour of exploring other reactions to art than exploring the highway. Hearing, smelling and sound is very important to me in a kinaesthetic way. For me it’s about expanding perception.

Alienarium 5 is on display at the Serpentine South until 4th September, 2022.

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