News - Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction

Opening in June 2017, a major Barbican exhibition, Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction, is a genre-defining exploration of one of popular culture’s most celebrated realms...

This unprecedented show takes place all over the Centre, encompassing literature, contemporary art, film, music, comic books and video games to present a new, global perspective on Science Fiction.

Curated by Swiss historian and writer Patrick Gyger, this festival-style exhibition explores Science Fiction as an experimental genre, delving into its storytelling roots to discover how its visionary creators captured imaginations around the world to become one of the most popular and enjoyable narratives today. Featuring work never before shown in the UK, the show places rare and iconic pieces alongside familiar, well-loved classics, next to new contemporary art commissions, hoping to surprise and challenge visitors’ perception of the genre. 

The exhibition includes over 200 books from around the world, including original manuscripts and typescripts, contemporary art commissions and existing art works, over 50 film and TV clips, featuring some of the most memorable cinematic moments in Science Fiction as well as rare, unseen footage, pulp magazines, adverts, concept art, film props, comics, video games and robots.

Into the Unknown will showcase works from major collections, national archives, film studios and private collections around the world. On display at the Barbican for the first time are works from philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder, Paul G. Allen. Other lenders include The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation, Warner Bros. Corporate Archive and the personal archives of SFX artist Patrick Tatopoulos. It will be brought to life with an immersive exhibition design by Ab Rogers (ARD). 

Neil McConnon, Head of Barbican International Enterprises, said, ‘Science Fiction has enjoyed a fascinating transition from niche to pop culture in recent years but still evokes strong emotions in many. We were keen to develop an exhibition that presents a new take on this broad genre by encompassing a variety of art forms. We hope it will appeal to everyone from Science Fiction aficionados to sceptics and all those in between.’ 

Patrick Gyger, Curator, added ‘Science Fiction is responsible for some of the world’s most iconic film, music, literature and art. Today, the interaction between digital, virtual and physical spheres further blurs the boundaries between it and our current reality. From 19thcentury cabinets of curiosities to cyberpunk, Into the Unknown takes a fresh and, at times, subversive look at the new territories, lost worlds, cosmic possibilities and virtual universes that traverse the broadest parameters of human imagination and yet are often instantly relatable.’

Alongside the main display in the Curve Gallery, the exhibition continues all over the building, in the foyers and in the Pit Theatre. There will be film screenings in the cinema, a pop up outdoor cinema on the Barbican’s sculpture court, music performances in the Barbican Hall, as well as a public programme of talks and events in partnership with New Scientist and Penguin Classics.

In the Curve Gallery, the exhibition takes visitors on a journey through strange lands, dystopian worlds, and virtual universes in four chapters:

Extraordinary Voyages 

Extraordinary Voyages explores man’s fascination with the undiscovered, unknown and inaccessible areas of planet Earth, where Science Fiction narratives first took root, looking at mysterious islands, lost worlds, voyages under the sea and in the air.

With a cabinet of curiosities, containing original manuscripts and drawings from Jules Vernes, alongside James Gurney’s Dinotopia series, and dinosaur models by Ray Harryhausen. This section also includes original models and props from films including Godzilla and Jurassic Park , concept art from One Million Years BC, and some of the most influential literature of the time, including Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, H Rider Haggard’s King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quatermain and She, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail , Thomas More’s Utopia, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan and the Lost Empire.

Film clips include 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Thunderbirds. 

Space Odysseys 

Space Odysseys , the largest section of the show, looks at the narratives most commonly associated with Science Fiction, space travel, the moon, alien contact, foreign planets and other worlds.

Motion graphics and VFX specialists Territory Studio will produce a new interactive commission based on their work on Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning film The Martian, recreating a sequence from the film’s NASA Mission Control set.

Australian duo Soda_Jerk’s Astro Black is a two-channel video installation which looks at cosmic Jazz musician Sun Ra’s theories of Afrofuturism. Splicing film, music and archival footage, this speculative history draws out the nexus of Science Fiction and social politics in Black Atlantic sonic culture. 

A gallery of aliens features heads, masks, skulls, models and props from films including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Aliens, including items from The Paul G. Allen Family Collection.

The original spacesuits worn by John Hurt in Alien, Sam Rockwell in Moon, Cillian Murphy in Sunshine and Leonard Nimoy as Spock in Star Trek will be on display, alongside original Darth Vader and Stormtrooper helmets from Star Wars ™ , as well as concept art from Doug Chiang and Ralph McQuarrie.

There will also be props and models from Stargate, Star Trek, Interstellar, Independence Day and concept art from District 9, Alien and First Men in the Moon. 

Space Odysseys includes illustrator and graphic novelist Martin Panchaud’s alternative adaptation of Star Wars™ Episode IV, SWANH.NET as an interactive work. His huge 123 metre infographic charts the entire episode in meticulous detail, including every line of dialogue, every character’s precise movements and exact dimensions of the starship’s fleet.

The exhibition will also feature artwork from some of the most influential artists in Science Fiction, including Frank R. Paul, whose 1920s magazine covers were a major influence on the genre and surrealist artist HR Giger, who realised the concept of the Alien in the 1979 Ridley Scott film, as well as vintage postcards and adverts promoting Soviet visions of space. 

There will be literature from Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama and Prelude to Space, Robert Heinlein’s Rocketship Gallileo, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand Of Darkness, Stanislav Lem’s Solaris, CS Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman and Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy’s Aelita and film clips from Aelita: Queen of Mars, Dune, Frau in Mond, Interstellar, Space is the Place and War of the Worlds. 

Brave New Worlds 

The third section of the show, Brave New Worlds explores spaces and societies that mankind has created for itself, from future cities with gigantic skyscrapers, vast underground networks and the highly organised spaces of dystopian worlds to disasters, wars, the apocalypse and the end of the world as we know it.

This section includes somblacke of Science Fiction’s most enduring texts, including Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, JG Ballard’s Vermillion Sands, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, William Burroughs’s Nova Express, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, Doris Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic, Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s Utopia and Yevgeny Zamiatin’s We.

With architectural plans and designs from Ben Wheatley’s recent film High Rise, other film and television clips in this chapter include Akira, 28 Days Later, Brazil, Dark City, Metropolis and The Prisoner.

Brave New Worlds also includes a selection of Soviet-era postcards depicting modernist utopian cities of the future on loan from the Moscow Design Museum. 

Final Frontiers 

As the boundaries of science and technology are pushed further, the final chapter, Final Frontiers looks at inner realms to question our own existence in the universe. This section explores identity, the transformation, augmentation and mutation of the body, including cyborgs, mutants, clones and robots; Artificial Intelligence and dimensional rifts including time travel, parallel worlds and alternate dimensions.

The Barbican is working with the multi-award-winning team at VFX company Double Negative to create an installation around the android Ava, star of the 2015 film Ex Machina, for which they won the Oscar for Best VFX.

Pioneering multi-media artist Dara Birnbaum’s seminal video Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, appropriates imagery from the 1970s TV series to radically deconstruct the female pop icon for today’s audience. Dara Birnbaum was one of the first artists to subvert and critique the language of television and her provocative analysis of mass culture went on to influence generations of artists. 

An autoencoded version of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, using artificial neural networks to reconstruct the film will be display, along with Sunspring – a short Science Fiction film, written entirely by an artificial intelligence bot for SciFi London’s 48-hour film challenge.

This section includes literature from Mikhaíl Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Robert Louis Stephenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as well as a selection of rare superhero comics from around the world.

Film and television clips in this chapter include Back to the Future, Doctor Who, Donnie Darko, ExistenZ, The Fly, Ghost in the Shell, The Terminator and Total Recall.

This section includes TARS from Interstellar, Robot B-9 from 1960s television series Lost in Space and a 3D model of Sonny from I-Robot as well as selection of robots from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and China from the Mint Museum of Toys in Singapore. 

Barbican, Silk Street Reception
For the duration of Into the Unknown, a six foot video installation from the award-winning British TV series Black Mirror will take over the main Silk Street entrance. The new commission is based on an episode from the first series,15 Million Merits, starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jessica Brown Findlay . Written by series creator Charlie Brooker, and wife, Konnie Huq, the episode explores the negative implications of technological advancements on humanity and the relationship between spectatorship and apathy in an increasingly virtual world.

The installation cuts, splices and frames short segments from the episode, displayed across multiple screens all along the main entrance hall, to create an immersive introduction to the entire exhibition. Set in a disconcerting, futuristic dystopia, the episode centres on a society whose people live in a hyper artificial environment where they must generate credits by cycling in order to play video games and audition for a Reality TV-style talent contest.

Black Mirror is created and produced by House of Tomorrow and has received wide critical acclaim since it was first broadcast on Channel 4 in 2011. In 2012, it won Best TV Movie/Miniseries at the International Emmy Awards and has been nominated for a BAFTA Award twice, as well as numerous BAFTA Craft Awards. Black Mirror Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are now available on Netflix with season 4 coming exclusively to Netflix members in 190 countries

Black Mirror: 15 Million Merits was created by Charlie Brooker, Konnie Huq, Euros Lyn and Annabel Jones, edited by Gus Herdman 

Contemporary Art in the Foyers 

Alongside film clips, books, pulps, adverts, comics, posters and games, the Barbican presents both newly commissioned and existing contemporary artworks.

A new commission by British artist Conrad Shawcross uses light, movement and sound to create an installation that will take over The Pit theatre space.

Shawcross’s work is often informed by theories of scientific rationality, exploring subjects that lie on the borders of geometry and philosophy, physics and metaphysics. Recent work in 2016 includes Monolith (Optic) , which was installed in Regent’s Park as part of Frieze Sculpture Park , 2016; Paradigm, one of London’s tallest public sculptures outside the Crick Institute; The Optic Cloak, a large scale architectural intervention, at Greenwich Peninsula. During 2015 The Dappled Light of The Sun, a major courtyard commission at the Royal Academy opened during the Summer Exhibition, and solo exhibitions at the New Art Centre, Roche Court and Victoria Miro Gallery were also undertaken.

His work has also been exhibited internationally at institutions including Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; CorpArtes, Chile; ArtScience Museum, Singapore; IMMA, Dublin; Aukland Art Gallery, New Zealand; MONA, Tasmania; the Hayward Gallery, London; Tate Britain, London and Musee d’art Contemporain, Lyon. 

The Barbican has also commissioned US Artist Trevor Paglen. His kinetic sculpture Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite is a prototype for an actual spacecraft that could be launched into low earth orbit and will hang prominently in the entrance to the Barbican foyers.

Crafted from reflective Mylar and aluminum, the spacecraft/sculpture is capable of collapsing into a small, lightweight canister that could be placed onboard a space-bound rocket to journey into space. If the sculpture was launched into orbit, the spacecraft would expand to become a large sail-like sculpture and would be visible to the unaided eye as a flickering, slow-moving, star-like object in the night sky, before burning up in the atmosphere without a trace. Paglen spent years in consultation with leading philosophers, scientists, engineers, artists, and historians to create an artifact that would serve as a poetic meditation on the legacy of our civilization.

As an experimental geographer and photographer, Paglen blurs the lines between science, journalism and art. Paglen's visual work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the 2008 Taipei Biennial; the 2009 Istanbul Biennial; the 2012 Liverpool Biennial, and numerous other solo and group exhibitions.

Other contemporary artworks include Isaac Julien’s 2004 work Encore II (Radioactive) , a short film study inspired by a character from the writings of Octavia Butler, an African American Science Fiction writer, best known for her recurring exploration of genetic manipulation, contamination and hybridity and David Bowie’s Starman.

The film re-digitises footage shot in Iceland and northern Sweden from Julien’s film True North (2004), a work based on the story of African-American explorer Matthew Henson, one of the key members of Robert E. Peary's 1909 Arctic expedition, and arguably the first individual to reach the North Pole. In Encore II: (Radioactive), the protagonist is recast as a cyborg played by Vanessa Myrie. Using super-8 footage from Julien’s earlier video experiments which were shot in 1980, whilst he was studying at St. Martin’s School of Art, the film manipulates the Icelandic landscape and its surroundings, imbuing them with a visual and sonic electronic aura that dislocates the setting from a specific time and place. 

Julien first garnered a cult following worldwide after the release of his critically acclaimed documentary drama Looking for Langston exploring the life of Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance; while his debut feature film, Young Soul Rebels won the Semaine de la Critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival. His recent work, Ten Thousand Waves premiered at the 2010 Sydney Biennale and went on to be exhibited worldwide, including at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris.

Palestinian video artist Larissa Sansour’s film In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain, which fuses Science Fiction, archaeology and politics to explore the role of myth in history, fact and national identity.

Larissa Sansour was born in East Jerusalem, Palestine and now lives and works in London. Her work is interdisciplinary, utilising video, photography, sculpture and installation and often explores the tug and pull of fiction and reality in a Middle-Eastern context. Her first London solo exhibition opened at The Mosaic Rooms in Summer 2016 and her work has also been exhibited at Tate Modern, London; the Centre Pompidou, France and the Istanbul Biennial, Turkey. 

Three short films will be screened in the foyers:

Afronauts by New York writer Frances Bodomo, inspired by the true story of the short-lived Zambia space programme in an imagined alternative history of the 1960s Space Race.

Pumzi ( Breath in Swahili) by Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu. An Afrofuturist short film, set in a post-apocalyptic world where water is scarce, it follows one scientist's quest to find life and grow seeds beyond the confines of her repressive subterranean Nairobi community.

Invisible Cities #Part 4 #Stations by Pierre-Jean Giloux, which reconstructs some of the architectural projects of the Japanese Metabolism movement, which aimed to revolutionise the cities of the future along the lines of organic growth.

The foyers will also host a jukebox of Science Fiction- inspired music, with three listening booths and a free interactive section of Science Fiction video games.

The show is created and produced by Barbican International Enterprises – the team behind the Barbican’s successful Digital Revolution (2014) which attracted 93,000 visitors to the Centre before embarking on an international tour. Co-produced by Brandts - Museum of Art & Visual Culture, Denmark and Onassis Cultural Centre, Greece (where Digital Revolution was their most successful show to date), the exhibition will subsequently be staged at both venues, before embarking on an international tour.

Into the Unknown is part of the Barbican’s 2017 Film in Focus programme – a year celebrating the power of the moving image and its influence across the arts.

To find out more about all the other individual special events taking place alongside the exhibition please visit the website at

Images - courtesy of Barbican.

1. Film Still, Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope (US 1977). Courtesy the Roger Grant Archive.
Note: Darth Vader’s fighting mask will appear in Into the Unknown

2. Film still, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968. Courtesy the Roger Grant Archive.
Note: 2001: A Space Odyssey will be screened at the Barbican’s Outdoor Cinema in August 2017

3. Film Still, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (US1954) Courtesy the Roger Grant Archive.
Note: A film clip from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea will appear in Into the Unknown

4. Magazine cover, Amazing Stories (April 1926) #1, Agence Martienne, Courtesy coll. Maison d'Ailleurs / Agence Martienne.
Note: The first ever edition of the pulp fiction magazine Amazing Stories will appear in Into the Unknown

5. Conrad Shawcross, Limit of Everything, 2010, Images courtesy of Conrad Shawcross Studio
Note: Conrad Shawcross is creating a new installation for Into the Unknown. The Limit of Everything (pictured) will not appear

6. Film Still, Afronauts., Frances Bodomo (2014)
Note: The short film Afronauts will be screened in the Barbican Foyers throughout the exhibition

7. Film Still, Ex Machina (2015)
Note: Double Negative will create a new commission based on the android in Ex Machina (pictured)

8. Film Still, Pumzi, Wanuri Kahiu (2010)
Note: The short film Pumzi will be screened in the Barbican Foyers throughout the exhibition

9. Film Still. In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain, Larissa Sansour/Soren Lind, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Sabrina Amrani
Note: In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain will be screened as part of Into the Unknown

10. Postcard On the first Lunar cosmodrome, Andrey Sokolov and Aleksey Leonov. 1968, Moscow Design Museum
Note: This series of Soviet postcards from the Moscow Design Museum will appear in the exhibition

11. Postcard An electronic brain of a distant world Andrey Sokolov. 1968, Moscow Design Museum
Note: This series of Soviet postcards from the Moscow Design Museum will appear in the exhibition

12. Trevor Paglen, Prototype for a Nonfunctional Satellite (Design 4; Build 4), 2013, Installation view, Courtesy of Trevor Paglen Studio
Note: Trevor Paglen is creating a new installation for Into the Unknown. The sculpture pictured will not appear

13. Soda_Jerk, Astro Black, New Forms Festival, Vancouver, 2014, Photo by Robin Selk
Note: Soda_Jerk’s Astro Black will be screened as part of Into the Unknown

14. Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978-9, video, sound, 5:50 min, Courtesy of the artist and Electronic Arts Intermix
Note: Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman will be screened as part of Into the Unknown
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