In 2019, the year of the future in films such as Blade Runner and Akira, we find ourselves stuck in a world where cyberpunk fictions have become a reality: our bodies have merged with our devices; our society is beholden to unchecked corporate greed; our sprawling cities are starkly divided between haves and have-nots. Decades after its emergence as a dystopian vision of the technological future, the distinct visuality of the cyberpunk genre—passionately explored and developed in cinema, video games, manga, animation, and graphic novels at the time—has settled on our present, leaving science fiction in an awkward relationship to the future. Instead of forward-facing narratives, science fiction is dominated by crisis modes and fantasies of perpetual disaster—set not in the far-flung future, but today.
Phantom Plane, Cyberpunk in the Year of the Future examines how the genre’s aesthetics and futurisms have also bled into art and visual culture. The exhibition centres around what the influential science fiction author William Gibson called “the meta-city,” a sprawling urban space just as virtual as it is real. Whether through spectacular panoramas of virtual mega cities, or fleeting snapshots of their alluring underworlds and dissonant denizens, the exhibition explores life in the meta-city, and how the cyber metropolis has transformed from a fantastic metaphor for life in the future into an inescapable, looping present.
In some of the artists’ works on view, the city—as well as its physical bodies and attendant digital spaces—appears as a ghost of past futures. Other works find new ways to proceed, pondering how cities and their inhabitants alike might undergo “fugues of retrofitting”, as Gibson put it, to move decidedly forward in time.
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