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Has Science Fiction Invaded the Museum Sector?

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I have a theory we're in the middle of a stealthily infiltration of our treasured museums and galleries by what I can only describe as the alien DNA of science fiction.

Now, before you skip to another page muttering about tinfoil hats and too much exposure to late night X-Files style conspiracy-spotting, let's consider the evidence.

Most notably in recent years, the British Library staged the rather magnificent (and a special British Science Fiction Association award-winning) Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it.

Reputably this was one of the highest footfall free exhibitions in the Library's recent history, winning accolades from the faithful, the curious and the professionally critical alike, in a science fictional showcase that emphasized the literary heritage of the genre alongside its pop cultural influences.

Oh, and in case you still think there's no mileage in the idea that the best science fiction writing is a lens through which we primarily view hot-button topics of the day, my special edition copy of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury comes with a jacket blurb from no less a superpower than Barack Obama praising its influence on contemporary culture.

A quick survey of our cultural scene over the past few year's shows that Tate has clearly recognized the trend and ventured into the genre world with both TH.2058 by artist Dominique Gonazalez-Foerster at Tate Modern, and also John Martin: Apocalypse at Tate Britain. The former re-imagining Tate Modern's main Turbine Hall as a storage house and refugee centre for a populace abandoning a flooded future London of perpetual rain, while Apocalypse not only drew specific parallels between Martin's artwork and contemporary science fictional scenarios, it even came complete with its own apocalyptic science fictional viral trailer.

Conclusion: someone at Tate clearly loves their dystopian SF.

A more recent sample of the past few months reveals The Future is Here, an exhibition all about the 3D printing revolution at the Design Museum, Visions of the Universe and An Alternate Guide to the Universe showing until recently at the National Maritime Museum and Hayward Gallery respectively, and I suspect there's more than a passing science fictional interest to be discovered in the Royal Observatory Greenwich's Astronomy Photographer of the Year as well.

Coming back to Fahrenheit 451, you can see echoes of that masterwork written all through the recent novella Memory Palace by Hari Kunzru commissioned by the V&A and Sky Arts Ignition as a jumping off point for their walk-in story exhibition of the same name.

Set in a future London, hundreds of years after the world's information infrastructure has been wiped out by an immense magnetic storm, Memory Palace brings together a new work of fiction by author Hari Kunzru with 20 original commissions from leading graphic designers, illustrators and typographers to create a multidimensional story.

It's an exhibition about how "the way we read books is changing" and "explores how a story might be imagined in a different format - as a walk-in book." Or, to put it another way, it's an exhibition of curated design, art and installation works founded on a central imaginative idea by Hari Kunzru that is very definitely science fictional in origin.

Interpretations of the Memory Palace novella shift from illustrated comic-book style scenes of an interrogation to life-size installations of retro-futuristic hospital carts pulled by cigarette-smoking urban foxes and a vast tower of magazine bales slowly collapsing in parallel with the civilization's own disappearing language: Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker with a winking sense of humour and really good art direction basically, and full credit to the V&A team for running full tilt with the science fiction high concept.

Perhaps they suspect the same thing as me - that there's something science fictional in the air - with the genre's traditional territories promising rich new maps for both curatorial investigation and good cultural box office in the form of the high spending power of the Geek Pound.

As author William Gibson famously noted, "The future's already here. It's just not evenly distributed," and perhaps our museums and galleries are poised to become the staging ground for a new critical and commercial merging of science fiction literature and cultural heritage and a new vector for further evolving the science fictional meme.

Basically, if this is an invasion, count me in.

Memory Palace is on show at the V&A until Sunday 20th October.

Copies of the accompanying novella by Hari Kunzru are available in the V&A gift shop and on Amazon.

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