ALIEN WORLDS: AN AESTHETIC EXAMINATION OF FOREIGN ENVIRONMENTS – SASHA FOSTER

PROJECT ROOM
OCTOBER 23 – NOVEMBER 27, 2015
RECEPTION: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2015 AT 8 PM
IN CONVERSATION WITH SASHA FOSTER AND GINGER CARLSON:
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 8 AT 2 PM

ALIEN WORLDS: AN AESTHETIC EXAMINATION OF FOREIGN ENVIRONMENTS is an immersive installation created by Calgary based multidisciplinary artist Sasha Foster. Constructing a tableau of the visual possibilities extraterrestrial worlds have to offer, Foster has created an eclectic exhibition of imaginary findings from hypothetical planets across the galaxy. Her futuristic garden is bursting with colour and texture, drawing the viewer into a world where dream and reality have become fused together. Heavily influenced by retro futuristic design and the golden age of science fiction, Foster invites the viewer into a fantastical world that is both foreign and familiar. Acting as a speculative scientist, she has designed a glossy, lurid and bizarre spatial experience that aims to allow the viewer a moment of escape from the constraints of a worldview based on rationalism.

 BIO

SASHA FOSTER completed a Bachelors of Design at OCAD in 2011. Since moving to Calgary in 2013, sculpture and installation art has become her primary focus. In 2015 Foster received an AFA Grant, which funded an artist residency at the Banff Art Centre as well as a body of work entitled Alien Worlds. She will be exhibiting Alien Worlds at Stride Art Gallery in October 2015 and will be showing new work at the Ledge Gallery in December 2015.

 

Sasha Foster / Alien Worlds
Essay by Ginger Carlson

In the literary realm of science fiction, creative world-making provides the textual framework for the making and remaking of possible pasts, presents, and futures. It is world-making that substantiates narrative and provides the conditions through which science fiction writing is executed. World-making, and especially science fiction world-making, invites readers to commit to conceptual fields of experience and to suspend known realities in order to explore cultural anxieties and desires. An exercise in aesthetics as well as politics, world-making reveals the mutability of our own world and opens up cracks through which we might catch glimpses of the social, political, ethical, and environmental implications of our actions while also providing a means by which to, at least during the time of reading, escape them. In the realm of contemporary art, world-making occurs in real time, offering tangible and textured inhabitable worlds that can be traversed and experienced through objects, ideas, physical spaces, and spatio-temporal environments. For artists dealing with the territory of science fiction and world-making, time and space are elastic and malleable, capable of expounding alternative realities and temporalities, imagined possibilities, and fantastical futures. [1]

It is within this realm that the immersive installation work of Sasha Foster is located. Through her exhibition, Alien Worlds: An Aesthetic Examination of Foreign Environments, Foster fabricates, assembles, and presents a series of alien objects that reference discordant slices of time and space, evidences of other worlds that are familiar yet strange, recognizable yet other worldly.

In his 1978 canonical treatise on the discourse of word-making, Ways of Worldmaking, American philosopher Nelson Goodman presented the topic by discussing how world-making endeavours might be composed and epistemologically applied.

The many stuffs – matter, energy, waves, phenomena – that worlds are made of are made along with the worlds. But made of what? Not from nothing, after all, but from other worlds. Worldmaking as we know it always starts from worlds already on hand; the making is a remaking. [2]

For Goodman, the making of worlds is actually a process of recycling; pieces of other worlds are rearranged and remade in order to reconcile the existence of contradictory states and participate in the imagining and re-visioning of current world models. Processes of world recycling can be found throughout the world-making gestures of Foster’s Alien Worlds. Immersive yet starkly artificial, Foster’s world-making blends the B-movie field of science fiction, populated by time travel, asteroids, kitsch, and caricature, with 1960’s retro-futurism and the modular and dynamic employment of colour and light of Verner Panton’s “experience design”. Popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Panton’s space age furniture and interior design imagined the future as timeless and abstract, colour as the ultimate tool for undermining rigid patterns of thought, and encompassed contemporary idealism equating modernity and artificiality with progress. [3]

A curious collection of otherworldly artefacts fabricated within the aesthetics of retro-futurism, the terminologies of Foster’s source worlds are further filtered through the addition of a curatorial lens, as objects with seemingly distinct aesthetic and biological lineages are purposefully brought together and carefully arranged. This application of order onto imagined objects through display and implied systems of classification create taxonomy and discursivity where none exists, conflating reality with unreality, non-fiction with science fiction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Foster’s presentation of alien ephemera as familiar and logical speaks to one of the primary definitions of science fiction, Darko Suvin’s “cognitive estrangement”. Writing in the 1970s, Suvin asserted that one of the most revolutionary elements of science fiction is its ability to render our own thoughts as strange and to disrupt our assumptions about our own reality, thereby revealing the fragility of perception in meaning making. [4]

In Alien Worlds, “cognitive estrangement” occurs not only in the presentation of the installation but also in its content. As artefacts representative of hypothetical alien worlds, one might expect to encounter space age technology or advanced objects of cultural significance. Instead, we are confronted with objects of geological and botanical significance. Artefacts of nature, albeit psychedelic nature, these objects inherently relate specific physical environments with specific spatio-temporal circumstances. Rocks and plants, varying in colour, material, and species, stand as physical evidence of distinct times and spaces, substantiating the artist’s world-making endeavours through the implication of multiple geological times and living histories and offering a delirious glimpse into the alternate realities imagined during the golden age of science fiction and retro-futurism.

Seemingly representing foreign worlds outside of the realm of humans, Foster’s world-making imagines places outside of the destructive and pressing realities of the Anthropocene. Offering a glimpse into what Ernst Bloch calls the “darkness so near”, this complete absence of artefacts of humanity reveals the very context that drives our will to escape our current reality, namely that which humanity produces. [5] An ephemeral escape and a kaleidoscope assault on the senses, Sasha Foster’s world-making endeavours provide a space for respite outside of our daily concerns and outside of our current reality, encouraging re-imaginings and re-tellings, disorientation and estrangement, and an unravelling of the “what now” of our current circumstances and the “what if” of those yet to come. [6]

Works cited

[1] Barikin, Amelia. “Making Worlds in Art and Science Fiction.” Proceedings of the 19th International Symposium of Electronic Art (2013): 3. Web.
[2] Goodman, Nelson. Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1978. 6. Print.
[3] Panton, Verner. Verner Panton: the Collected Works: Vitra Design Museum. Weil am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum, 2000. 184, 204-205. Print.
[4] Suvin, Darko. “On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre.” College English. 34.3 (1972): 372-382. Print. See Barikin 3.
[5] Bloch, Ernst. “The Principle of Hope.” Utopias. Richard Noble. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2009. 43. Print.
[6] See Barikin on Martha Rosler 3.

 

GINGER CARLSON is a curator, writer, and gallery director based in Calgary, AB. She holds a BA Honours in Art History from the University of Alberta and an MA in Art Gallery & Museum Studies from the University of Manchester. Currently, Ginger is the Director of Untitled Art Society and sits on the boards of a number of non-profit organizations. She served as the Visual Arts Curator for the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, 2015 and will be returning for 2016.

 

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