Lee Bul, Willing To Be Vulnerable, 2015–16, heavy-duty fabric, metalised film, transparent film, polyurethane ink, fog machine, LED lighting, electronic wiring. Created for the 20th Biennale of Sydney. Courtesy and © the artist

When thinking through the theme of this edition of Artlink, I came across the film Another Earth (2011, Dir. Mike Cahill) supporting the mathematically comprehensible idea of a replicable universe of planets and galaxies doubling our own.

Representing this viewpoint, Kate Shaw’s video The Spectator animates the sublime vision of what it might be like to view the destruction of our world from the sidelines. Hers is just one of many science fictional narratives that speculate on possible futures as endgame scenarios exacerbated by human‑induced environmental changes and other potential cataclysmic events.

As Darren Jorgensen writes in his feature essay for this issue, Shaw’s animations  “pull away the illusion of nature to leave us with the hyper-reality of the Anthropocene throbbing within.” Shaw’s so-titled painting, a detail of which graces the cover of this issue, similarly renders glacial melting in the slippage between abstraction and figuration embedded in the lurid mire of paint. 

It seems we cannot get enough of such imagery alerting us to the danger of imminent ecological and social collapse and the spectacle of nature’s revenge. In his essay, “The new capitalist realism: Science fiction in art of the 2010s”, Jorgensen captures this momentum in the work of artists Nicholas Folland, Kate Shaw and Erin Coates. Coates’s video work, Driving to the Ends of the Earth, tipped to be shown in Sydney’s forthcoming Australian art survey The National, was a notable inclusion in the exhibition Inanition: A Speculation on the End of Times curated by Laetetia Wilson for Success in Fremantle. (Read the review by Gemma Weston at www.artlink.com.au/reviews.)

Kate Shaw, The Spectator, 2010, video stills. Courtesy Fahily Contemporary and © the artist

But there only so far you can go with such big themes. Predictive, purposeful and intertextual works of speculative or science fiction are a great resource for channelling ideas, which on closer inspection often devolve into practices of more located world-building as defining narratives. Across these pages, there are many examples of such practices. A case in point is the 2016 Biennale of Sydney, headlined by a quote from notable Sci-fi writer William Gibson: “The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” Artistic director Stephanie Rosenthal’s choice of art and artists was distinctly low‑fi, cross‑cultural and aspirational. Lee Bul’s massive but flimsy airship installed at Cockatoo Island could have been disassembled with a pin prick. While Heman Chong’s grand‑sounding Stanislaw Lem Pavilion was a mobile book stall generously redistributing masterworks of the great Polish writer at a very reasonable price. (For more on “The many fictions of Heman Chong”, read our interview in this issue with IMA Directors, Aileen Burns and Johan Lundh.)

In this issue Andrew Frost surveys a raft of independently curated exhibitions and artists projects. Peter Hill, outlining his concept of the “superfiction”, embraces the working worlds coming out of relational aesthetics, pyschogeographies, potlatch ecologies and practices of everyday life. Andrew Yip discusses new ways in which artists form narratives using consciousness as a medium in his insightful essay on VR and augmented technology. As he suggests, “such journeys into alternative realities leave neither the travellers nor their worlds unchanged.” Among the artists profiled (including Roy Ananda, Ella Barclay, Matthew Bradley, Chris Bond and Soda_Jerk), many engage in similar strategies of intervention and extension of pre‑existing forms and narratives as fans, creators and collaborators stepping over the threshold to forever change those spaces occupied.