Nottingham is in for a treat. ‘Star City’ (The Future Under Communism) which opens today at Nottingham Contemporary is immersive, accessible and fun.
For a generation who were children in the sixties the space race that existed between the capitalist west (USA) and the communist east (the Soviet Union) was a very real and ongoing struggle. The race was utopian, promising human supremacy and the conquest of space itself. The American vision is familiar to us, today represented as a kind of Disneyfied experience at museums and institutions around the world. In contrast the Soviet vision (like the union itself) appears like some ghostly ruin of its former self. This seems rather ironic given the former Soviet Union’s pivotal role in assembling and maintaining the International Space Station currently in orbit around the Earth with it’s old but reliable fleet of space tugs and rockets. Here then in the confines of Nottingham’s premier contemporary art exhibition space are the dreams and ruins of a lost world.
The utopian splendour captured in propaganda posters from the early sixties serve to illustrate the heroic cosmonauts and Soviet pride – a peasant nation taking on and succeeding against the might of the richest nation on earth, the USA.
One poster features a Soviet rocket ascending into the ether, whilst tucked away in the bottom left-hand corner an American rocket is shown descending in a feeble downward curve, exploding comic-style over an outline map labelled simply ‘USA’.
The exhibition features bizarre pseudo-religious icons where christian symbols are juxtaposed against space hardware. Gold lamé suited cosmonauts wander through the galleries adding to the illusion of the exhibition which is bold and entertaining.
The centrepiece of the show is ‘Mother Earth Sister Moon’ a giant cosmonaut body which fills the vast studio space on the lower level of the gallery. Here you can wander around inside the crumpled spacesuit which is rendered like a sixties boutique and if you are lucky, you can also watch a futuristic fashion show unfold with live models parading in shiny fabrics and outlandish makeup.
For me, the most magical of exhibit is the Star City video installation by Jane and Louise Wilson, where surrounded by four giant screens you become immersed in the cityscape, floatation tanks and G-force centrifuges located in the Star City Cosmodrome itself. Slow cinematic treatment enhances the dreamlike quality of these mysterious spaces as we peer through aquaous portals into brutal metallic capsules. It’s like being a character in Andrei Tarkovsky’s science fiction movie ‘Solaris’ on a gigantic scale.
‘Elsewhere’ by Micol Assaél features a toppled communications cabinet, with pipes dripping into a pool of water and ominous amplified electric sparks, alluding more closely to Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ with its post-apocalyptic landscape of decaying technology. This perhaps is the most telling piece in the show, a brutal illustration of where our triumphant rocket has actually landed, a place where even the mighty USA has to reign in it’s aspirations, a kind of graveyard for our bankrupt flights of fantasy.
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