Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s Serpentine exhibition is out of this world
By Arijana Zeric | Art | 1 August 2022

Experimental artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster is holding a second solo exhibition in London after her successful installation at the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in 2008. This time her multi-layered work is gracing the Serpentine Gallery, encompassing the entire space inside and around the building. 

This time the French artist dives into an extraterrestrial world that allows us to look at out own planet from an out of space perspective. At the centre of the exhibition, titled Alienarium 5, is the incredible 360 degree Metapanorama, a highly conceptional collage placing pop cultural icons alongside botanical and architectural imagery and extraterrestrial beings. Alien cityscapes zoom us into the future, evoking the 60s futurism of The Jetsons and I Dream Of Jeannie, strange soundscapes filter through speakers, flickering from subtle voices to radio distortion, while VR headsets transport you into the beautiful cosmos. We sat down with Gonzalez-Foerster for a quick chat about her otherworldly new work. 

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. You would find yourself in a round space, so the experience is also architectural. In big cities like Paris or London, there were many of these round, circular constructions in which artists combined landscapes with 3D objects to give you an experience of another world. Im very interested in all the other possible displays or ways of looking at things that an exhibition contains. 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 to revive the panorama is a way of giving room to the history of exhibition because it’s an incredible invention to show how you 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, so you can find different roots in this panorama. It’s a landscape where you’re standing in another world and you’re looking at planet earth. This experience of looking at earth from far away is often described by people as very transformative because you see earth as something contained. Usually, in a planetarium you look at other planets and in this panorama you’re looking at earth from another planet.

This experience of looking at earth from far away is often described by people as very transformative because you see earth as something contained.”

AZ: How does showing in London fit into this context?
DGF: 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. The panorama is also of course very much a 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 clearly similarities with Sir Peter Blake’s famous Beatles cover in your panorama, what inspired you there?
DGF: 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, all 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: 60s Futurism also plays a key influence.
DGF: Absolutely. I’m a child of the 60s, so I embody all of that. I grew up in a modernist environment, with all their films and literature. The Serpentine Gallery hosted all these amazing exhibitions, so for me to connect to Hilma af Klimt as an experimental artist through this space in the panorama is a very special thing.

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

AZ: There is this notion of being a part of the artwork. Why is interaction so important to your work?
DGF: The idea of simply looking is normative and reduced. I’m more in favour of trying other reactions to art than exploring the highway. Hearing, smelling and sound is very important to me in a kinaesthetic way to connect our vision. For me, it’s about expanding perception.

Alienarium 5 is on display at the Serpentine South from the 14th of April until the 4th of September 2022.

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