Archive: When Science Fiction Meets Art

Image from Roger Sabin's Restless Futures talk
When Science Fiction Meets Art and Design event
Image by Brendan Bell

Roger Sabin was joined by a panel of guests experts on the topic of science fiction and art who had all been involved in the World Science Fiction Convention earlier in the year, including:

- Jude Roberts; lecturer and writer specialising in sci-fi and gender
- Simon Hollington; lecturer and artist – ‘Invisible Force Fields Experiments’
- Dan Smith; lecturer, writer and H. G. Wells specialist 
- Roger Sabin; writer and lecturer at Central Saint Martins

The dominant themes of the discussion were how fine art and science fiction interact, why science fiction has such an interest in art, and how social discourse affects this relationship and dictates popular themes within science fiction.

The relationship between fine art and science fiction was established as the panel discussed the World Science Fiction Convention. Jude Roberts noted that the Convention set out to deliberately acquire the work of fine artists to encourage those interested in both science fiction and art. Artists were commissioned to use the Convention’s exhibit hall as they please, including costume designers and illustrators.

Discussing this bond between art and science fiction, Dan Smith argued that historically the strongest tie concerning art and sci-fi was the relationship between illustration and narrative. Noting this point, Simon Hollington suggested that the connection between visual art and science fiction has developed more recently within video games, keeping the relationship current.

The discussion moved on to the influence of social discourse. Looking at examples from history, the panel illustrated how politics and cultural atmosphere at any time influences science fiction and the themes within it. For example, during the 1960s and 70s, there was a boom in futuristic narratives within sci-fi that clearly coincided with events such as the moon landings. In contrast, a contemporary theme is the apocalypse and it was suggested that this is a result of our anxiety as a society surrounding ecological disasters and environmental damage, which is also a popular theme in political discourse.  This idea of the culturally specific apocalypse demonstrates how science fiction finds its inspiration deeply embedded in our society.

To conclude the discussion, Sabin invited questions from the audience. These included a focus on the domestication of zombies as a dominant trend, whether different cultures experience futurism at different times, and why science fiction is currently so bleak. The final questioner asked whether we are already living in a science fiction future given the invention of gadgets such as Oculus Rift. The panel’s response was that as people keep imagining what the future may be like we are always concerned with what else could be possible and, therefore, we are always living in the future.

Further key terms discussed:
- Afro-futurism
- The nature of hopeful science fiction
- Space operas
- Cyberpunk 

This event took place on 19 November 2014.