Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Martial Galfione and Mike Gaughan, Metapanorama, 2022. Installation view, Alienarium 5.Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © The artist and Serpentine, 2022.
‘What if aliens were in love with us?’ This enticing line of enquiry is presented, this summer, by Serpentine, London, and sponsored by Muse, the Rolls-Royce Art Programme. Alienarium 5 is a major exhibition by leading artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, which combines virtual reality with olfactory, sensory elements. Here, the curator Claude Adjil describes how the project came into being.
Aliens have invaded London's Kensington Gardens – but there’s no cause for panic. Instead, French artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster invites you on an intergalactic rendezvous at her Alienarium 5, an otherworldly space which ‘imagines possible encounters with extraterrestrials’. This summer, Muse, the Rolls-Royce Art Programme, continues its support of fantastical moving-image art as sponsors of this vast and enchanting exhibition.
Trailer, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster “Alienarium”, Serpentine Galleries, 2022, courtesy VIVE Arts
Running until September, this immersive environment aims to encourage connections with other species by asking the question: ‘What if aliens were in love with us?’ Vast, enchanting, and more than a little strange, the project is a product of the artist’s decades-long fascination with science fiction. Here, she uses the genre to reflect on our place in the universe and consider new futures. Created specifically for Serpentine, Alienarium 5 transforms the gallery’s classical-style building and the surrounding park of Kensington Gardens, London, into a meeting point where different time periods, realities, and non-humans can coexist.
The show has resonance at this time when recent world events have brought the fantastical scenarios of science fiction closer to home: ‘Public perception around science fiction has shifted a little bit. It's no longer so much on the sidelines,’ explains Claude Adjil, the exhibition’s curator, ‘but [Gonzalez-Foerster’s] science fiction is one of hope and optimism; this idea of building spaces, of engaging with other non-humans and extending this idea to all different types of life forms.’
Whether you believe in life on Mars or not, the Alienarium 5 is a comforting reminder that we are very much not alone. The artist has filled the gallery and its outside space with all manner of collaborative installations and interactive experiences designed, in Adjil’s words, to create ‘a welcoming home for extraterrestrials and other creatures and beings to come together.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Paul B. Preciado, In remembrance of the coming alien (Alienor), 2022. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. © The artist and Serpentine, 2022.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster with John Morgan studio, Alienarium 5 (Neon), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Corvi-Mora. Installation view. Photo: Hugo Glendinning. VR Stills, produced by VIVE Arts and developed by Lucid Realities. Courtesy the artist. © Serpentine, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and VIVE Arts.
Visitors are greeted outside by a heart-shaped monument, conceived with writer Paul B. Preciado, which commemorates the alien visit. Inside the gallery, this homage gets even more surreal. A carpet based on a vision of Uranus, the seventh planet in the solar system, flows out across the rooms. A wall punctured with peepholes adds to the unearthly intrigue. Visitors are invited to peer through, catching their first glimpse of mysterious extraterrestrial beings.
Throughout the space are also a number of multi-sensory experiences designed to further ignite our imagination: at various points, visitors will detect the pungent scents of ‘alien flowers’ which the artist has created with the help of perfumer Barnabé Fillion. In the background is a soundscape titled ‘Holorama’ by musician Julien Perez, which splices together electronica, radio interference and snippets of indiscernible speech, as if someone were trying to communicate from beyond.
Metapanorama (2022) detail. © Serpentine and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster.
Inside the gallery’s rotunda, a 360-degree ‘metapanorama’ presents a colossal collage of familiar faces from cinema, art and literature alongside images of alien life from popular imagination: ET and characters from Avatar share the wall with Dadaist Hannah Höch, mathematician Alan Turing, rock star David Bowie and circular forms referencing the mystic artist Hilma af Klint. This intergalactic gathering of pioneering visionaries, many of whom embraced different realities, seems to suggest that aliens too have walked among us.
Visitors are propelled further into the narrative by way of a virtual space voyage. A multi-user VR piece produced by VIVE Arts and developed by Lucid Realities offers viewers the chance to inhabit no less than five different alien bodies and encounter other creatures as they venture into deep space. Technology becomes another way of exploring different forms of consciousness, of asking us to consider different perspectives beyond the purely human. Such pioneering moving-image works capture the essence of Muse, which has also supported the creation of stunning digital pieces by artists such as Refik Anadol via the Rolls-Royce Art Programme.
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Martial Galfione and Mike Gaughan, Metapanorama, 2022. Installation view, Alienarium 5 Photo: Hugo Glendinning.
‘It's a totally meditative, transcendental experience. One can feel incredibly euphoric afterwards. There's also a bittersweetness because you're sort of encountering these other creatures and it's very loving, but then there's also this sort of longing as you see them disappear.'
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Alienarium, 2022. Produced by VIVE Arts and developed by Lucid Realities. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.
Inspiring love towards other life forms is essential at a time when so many species around the world face extinction. But with the Alienarium 5, Gonzalez-Foerster proposes a future where all life, whether animal, human or alien, can thrive.
Alienarium 5 is on view at Serpentine South
until 4 September 2022
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