UMKC Fine Arts Gallery exhibits new show featuring sci-fi inspired surrealism

Joey Hill

The UMKC Gallery of Art opened the doors of a new exhibition simply titled “Anomalous: Investigating the Science Fiction Aesthetic,” an odd and surreal visionary trip Aug. 19.

Used to define inconsistencies and the moment in which it seems something has deviated from normalcy, “Anomalous” seems the perfect title for a science fiction themed art show. Featuring a wide collection of work from several artists spanning the city and the country alike, the show provides works that rely on a sense of the unknown and expand from the uncomfortably surreal to the almost captivatingly austere.

This focus on science fiction shouldn’t be taken as evidence that all presented in the show is rendering of robots carrying scantily-clad women to safety from hideous green abominations or still shots from “The Blob.” “Anomalous” is centered around the aesthetics of science fiction. The elements linger with the viewer and the reader long after the story is completed, the visions which can create a sort of silent terror or breathe a sense of abstract wonder into the narrative. It is there that the focuses of artists Jonah Criswell, Matt Borruso, Scott Dickson, Ari Fish and Colin Leipelt lie, standing upon a precipice between the visual natures of horror and mystery which build this collection as something avidly open to interpretation.

One such artist to capture this sense of silent ambiguity is Jonah Criswell, who displayed a selection of his work from the series “Unsolved Mysteries,” an austere collection of renderings in graphite which challenges the connection between a twodimensional drawing and a window into a three-dimensional space. Each are in monochromatic black on white with an extreme overbearing use of black except for the small inlet of white space making up the rendered drawing of a still shot from a movie.

Each image is rendered in a hyper-realist style and there are clear attempts to get as much detail in as possible, but each appears distorted in a way, fuzzy as if the source material used for the drawing was simply a photograph of the movie playing on a television. This immediately shifts the focus of what the picture is actually of, that it could not actually be a rendering of a
scene from a movie but actually a rendering of the film being played in a dark room in some unknown location. It is as though these are records of a bygone era, not of moviemaking, but culture in general, used as markers of an extreme shift in the world’s history.

None of the images are drawn to fit the square plane of the paper. It’s always drawn at an odd angle, making it all the more physical. There is so little information given to the viewer that the mystery abounds in these works, and is part of their charm, past the initial excitement of seeing a snap shot of the little girl from “Poltergeist” staring into the television. Even with these near perfect representations of these images, the works still have a definite handmade quality. The blackness surrounding the screens is made up of a very fine hatching meticulously scrawled in even columns down the surface of the paper.

Speaking to the literal interest of visual dialogue on the aesthetics of science fiction, there is also a collection of rare Phillip K. Dick paperbacks on display. A monumental figure in the science fiction genre, Dick created stories that brought enormous questions involving the role of government, technology and free will to the surface of American literature. Many films have been produced based on his stories including, “A Scanner Darkly”, “Minority Report”, “Total Recall” and “The Adjustment Bureau.” Another notable film adaptation, widely regarded as a masterpiece of science fiction cinema, is Ridley Scott’s 1982 film “Blade Runner” based on Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” which questions what it means to be human as well as society’s treatment of technology as it is allowed to become more sentient with advancements.

The film is also included in the set of free film screenings showing within the next three weeks. The three screenings are all works of almost extreme surrealism in the sense of science fiction tropes. The first being John Boorman’s 1974 film “Zardoz”, a campy romp through a post-apocalyptic Earth inhabited by crazed barbaric humans who worship a giant stone head and are convinced to stop breeding and instead kill. Considered a cult classic, it’s worth a look just to see Sean Connery wearing kneehigh leather boots with a braided ponytail. The second is “Blade Runner” and the final film is an infamous work of captivating surrealism, Stanley Kubrik’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Employing epic imagery, an incredible score and moments of extreme tension and terror, this film tells the story of astronauts on a mission to Jupiter that goes increasingly awry with the aggressive actions of the ships on-board computer.

“Anomalous” is an exhibit of extreme work. It includes works that pose questions, not only about what is being seen, but how. They make the argument that science fiction is not just about laser guns and robots but larger things, like when one looks at a photograph of the earth, a blue marble surrounded by an expansive blackness, what does one feel? Awe? Inspiration? Or maybe crippling loneliness.

“Anomalous” will be open from Aug. 29 through Oct. 4 at the UMKC Gallery of Art in the Fine Arts Building at 5015 Holmes Street. The three film screenings are open to the public at the same location with “Zardoz” on Sept. 5, “Blade Runner” Sept. 19, and “2001: A Space Odyssey” at 7 p.m on Oct 3.

Image Credit // UMKC Gallery of Art