The title of the exhibit, “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module,” sounded both quirky and compelling, like a legit publication coming out of Cold War Russia or a Mel Brooks movie. Curated by a small group of Eastern European curators under the name Tranzit, the show transformed a single floor of the museum into the simulated interior of a spaceship. The concept brought to mind every science fiction term I knew (which aren’t many): Star Trek, Philip K. Dick, and William Gibson.
By Larissa Zimberoff
When the New Museum was first founded its goal was to showcase contemporary art made within a period of approximately ten years prior to the present, and specifically on living artists who did not yet have wide public exposure or critical acceptance. The exhibit on the New Museum’s fifth floor, which has seen its share of offbeat installations, is also part of “Museum as Hub,” which fosters a dialogue around international art and ideas. So the setup was clear: international artists few of us had heard of, under the rubric of Sci-Fi, in a museum known for stretching boundaries.
To kickoff the exhibit the museum hosted “Futures of Eastern Europe,” a two-day conference of lectures, talks and films. While the snow came down on Bowery Street, I attended the first day of talks. The four presenters had a Sci Fi thematic thread connecting them, but they were so utterly different it was hard to wrap my head around it.
With a backdrop of colorful slides showcasing Russian media from the 1950s and 1960s, Tomáš Pospiszyl spoke of Sci-Fi as a narrative to exploring the future, which to many meant Communism, from the comforts of your sofa. Éva Forgács, an art historian from Hungary, spoke about Miklós Erdélyi, an artist whose theories about the black hole, which he said was a locus for where the past meets the future, reminded me of that time in junior high when I fell asleep to the deep intonations of the male narrated biology films. For nineteen minutes we watched “Revisiting Solaris,” a video by Deimantas Narkevičius, based on the work by futurologist Stanislaw Lem. The elderly man in the film, along with weighty shots of nature stills and disjointed English subtitles, contemplates his past journey to another planet, Solaris. The session wrapped with Anton Vidokle, the publisher of e-flux magazine. Vidokle presented an in-progress screenplay mixing various forms of work by other artists, recent news items, and along personal details, alongside a backdrop of images taken in Russia that fit into a spaceship window.
I saved my visit to the fifth floor for the break in sessions, and as I travelled up in my flux capacitor, aka the elevator, I wondered what was in store for my future. I walked out into a white room. I read the curator’s note on the wall. I looked over at the curved white benches. I briefly watched the video. I walked into a room painted Jolly Rancher green. More videos. In a tiny rectangular-shaped white room, I found the essence of the exhibit, a showcase of at least a hundred (or maybe just 70), tiny handmade artwork. Stacked in close proximity on shelves high and low were journals, rocks, a pencil tied to a metal wire, a metal kids jumper, and more. The guard loudly instructed guests to watch their bags and to wait their turn. I looked and I pondered. It was a future I did not understand.
The juxtaposition of current day art from Europe, and the idea of a spaceship from the 1960s, is an intriguing mind game. Go with an open mind, and, if you figure out more than I did, please share. As William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here—it's just not very evenly distributed.”
Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module is on view at The New Museum through April 13, 2014