Clinical whiteness and bright light. I put on headphones and face a high-definition video screen. Rapidly flashing texts suggest the possibility of uncharted territories: ‘let’s imagine/for a moment/let’s imagine’. Science fiction and intergalactic travel blurs with New Age spirituality and the seductive language of consumerism. Blobs of saturated, ersatz colour and amorphous matter are reminiscent of 20th-century industrial chemistry. An absurd image of a hand severed from its arm, in a dark green ground, has fingers that twitch disconcertingly. The visual effects of sci-fi and horror converge with internet image search results, animated GIFs and mobile application technologies. The white room is linked sonically to other spaces not yet encountered. I leave it via a silvery threshold crossed by a bridge lined with LED lights. Electronic sounds, disconnected from their source, are reminiscent of spaceships deserted and lost. The crackling I hear emanates from outdated speakers stacked totem-like on either side of the bridge. I enter a darkened room, defunct technologies, from past and future collide. Light flickers and casts shadows that appear and then vanish. A presence (neither human nor animal) beats a drum. Through a porthole, broken through a wall, I see a place I no longer recognise.
‘Heads May Roll’ is Benedict Drew’s first solo commission at Matt’s Gallery. His work speaks to that of a number of artists who, working out of different historical and geographical conditions, are experimenting with the creative and critical possibilities of science fiction and 21st-century technologies. Politically, science-fiction functions as a strategy through which to speak about the present, using the temporal displacement of an imagined future. In North America, Afrofuturism is currently receiving renewed attention in ‘The Shadows Took Shape’, a curated exhibition at the Studio Museum in New York City. In the United Kingdom, the powerful affective charge of Mike Nelson’s installations, which similarly play with the borderlines of real-unreal, connects to Drew’s practice. Books available to browse alongside the show include H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Colour Out of Space’ (1927): the author is a source not only for Nelson but a younger generation of artists working in the UK today.
The journey staged by Drew begins and ends in the unrelenting brightness of the white room. Closing the door behind us, we depart a galactic universe of electronic disturbance, fluorescent dust, and the machine-ghosts of a future still to reach us. A future not yet charted is troubling. From the spiralling environmental waste of technological objects to our accelerated dependence on the transportable screens of laptop, smart phone or tablet there are innumerable concerns about the conditions of advanced capitalism and the anxious desires it engenders in its subjects. The possibilities for how images and sounds can be imagined are unprecedented. We are still at the very beginning of understanding what this all means to the social, the political and the economic spheres. And indeed for the practices of artists who (similarly to Drew) will come to define the historical moment we currently inhabit.