Histories and Futures of Electronic Art


Andrew Frost


Elizabeth Muller: School of Design, University of Technology, Australia

Andrew Frost: School of Media Arts, College of Fine Art, University of NSW, Australia

Amelia Barikin: School of English, Media Studies and Art History, University of Queensland, Australia



As the title of ISEA2013 demonstrates, science fiction is more than a narrative genre, it is a cultural force that dominates our understanding of the transformations brought about through science and technology. If it is futile to resist the transformation of contemporary art by digital technology, it is equally futile to resist the way that images, tropes and scenarios of science fiction interrogate our present and dramatise our relationships with technology. Not all media art is science fiction, and not all science fictional art is new media, but there is a huge and compelling overlap in their aesthetic and theoretical terrain that has rarely been rigorously explored. Most media art theorists and historians have avoided acknowledging this shared ground, while few science fiction scholars have attempted to address the increasing materialisation of science fiction beyond the page or screen. Meanwhile, a burgeoning of artistic production mobilises science fictional aesthetics in a variety of media.

This panel explores the fertile ground between science fiction and media art. It traces historical and theoretical connections and investigates the benefits of a synthesis of scholarship in media art and science fiction. The panel explores and critiques creative strategies such as speculation, extrapolation, utopian postulation, ficto-critical inventions and world-making through close attention to individual artists and artworks. Finally, it asks where media art practice and scholarship might go next, and asks how the future orientation of many science fictional forms relates to media art’s emphasis on formal innovation and technological change.


Amelia Barikin: Making Worlds in Art and Science Fiction

This paper argues for a link between the ‘world-making’ enterprises of science fiction and a renewed attention to world-making as a key trope within contemporary artistic practice. Although world-making has long been recognised as a major tactic in science fictional literature, it also plays a significant role in the generation of visual and temporal experiences in the field of contemporary art. Rather than adopting a genre- or media-based approach to the subject, this paper explores the ways in which we are able to ‘inhabit’ works of art, positioning the effects of such inhabitation as a world-making exercise with clear ethical implications. The paper suggests that part of what makes a work of art ‘inhabitable’ is its ‘believability’: the manner in which the imagined world is able to convince or entice a spectator to either dwell within its ethos or commit to its conceptual alliances. The temporal dimensions of this process will be contextualised with specific reference to the works of several contemporary artists whose praxes span the fields of installation, video and the event. Considering the differences between the making of textual worlds and the worlds materialised in durational, time-based works of art generates new understandings of the role of narrative in representational forms.


Andrew Frost: Science Fictional Aesthetics: The Novum & Cognitive Estrangement in Contemporary Art

Science fiction and contemporary art have long been connected by a set of related interests and formal expressions.  SF in its most popular manifestations in literature and cinema expresses cultural anxieties and desire through a set of commonly understood and recognised concepts, while contemporary art has edged ever closer to science fiction in its deployment of technological presentation with a nominally realist language of representation. This paper argues that two concepts in the critical study of SF, the novum and cognitive estrangement, are applicable to the practice and interpretation of much contemporary art. Discussing the work of contemporary new media artists whose practice has explicitly dealt with SF themes and tropes in various forms, the paper argues that the use of these two key critical SF concepts helps to define a new and under-theorised cultural formation: the science fictional.


Lizzie Muller: Speculative Objects: Materialising Science Fiction

Science fiction offers a potent mode of reflection on the impact of scientific and technological change. It does this by provoking and supporting speculation – the projection of thought from the known into the unknown. This paper proposes and develops the idea of  ‘speculative objects’: science fictional things (both artworks and artefacts) that destabilise the boundaries between forms of knowledge, between truth and fiction and between past, present and future. It draws on the exhibition Awfully Wonderful: Science Fiction in Contemporary Art, co-curated by the author and staged at the Performance Space, Sydney. Awfully Wonderful presented work by artists who, like science fiction authors and film-makers, use speculation to create alternative realities where different social, political and personal possibilities can be explored. These works were presented alongside scientific and technological artefacts from the Powerhouse Museum that spoke of the fictions of the past, and the histories of the future. This paper explores how these diverse speculative objects function in human experience as experimental, practical and philosophical tools.



Amelia Barikin is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of English, Media Studies and Art History at the University of Queensland, where she is currently working on a book and a major exhibition on the intersection of art and science fiction. Amelia completed her art history PhD in 2008 at the University of Melbourne on the work of contemporary French artist Pierre Huyghe. Prior to joining UQ, she worked as a Senior Research Associate on the ARC Linkage Project Large Screens and the Transnational Public Sphere (University of Melbourne School of Culture and Communications 2010-2012), and has also worked as a lecturer, editor and curator with numerous Australian arts institutions including Liquid Architecture, Experimenta, Bus Projects and The Australian Centre for the Moving Image. She is on the editorial advisory board of the academic art history journal emaj and is an editorial committee member of the independent arts publication, un Magazine. Amelia has taught on modern and contemporary art, art theory and curatorship, and has published widely. Her book Parallel Presents: The Art of Pierre Huyghe was published by MIT Press in 2012. 

Andrew Frost is a writer, critic and broadcaster. His doctoral thesis Science Fictional: SF Beyond the Limits of Genre studied the historical relationships between art and science fiction with an emphasis on the study of an extra-generic aesthetic field between contemporary art and sci-fi. Andrew has written and presented a number of TV programs, the most recent of which, The A-Z of Contemporary Art, was screened on ABC1 in June 2013. He has written for numerous Australian and overseas art magazines, sites and journals, and from 2008 he contributed critical reviews and opinion pieces to ABC1’s Sunday Arts and made regular appearances on Art Nation [2010-11], and on Art Works and Arts & Letters Daily [ABC Radio National]. In 2010 Currency Press published Andrew’s monograph The Boys in its Australian Film Classics series.

Lizzie Muller is a curator and academic specialising in audience experience, interactivity and interdisciplinary collaboration. She is Senior Lecturer in the School of Design at the University of Technology, Sydney. Lizzie holds a curatorial practice-based PhD (UTS 2009), which investigates the experiential aesthetics of interactive art. Her curatorial projects include: Awfully Wonderful: Science Fiction in Contemporary Art (co-curated with Bec Dean at Sydney’s Performance Space, 2011); The Art of Participatory Design (a series of projects and exhibitions at UTS Gallery and DAB LAB, 2010); and Mirror States (a major exhibition of interactive installations co-curated with Kathy Cleland at Campbelltown Art Centre, Sydney and MIC Toi Rerehiko, Auckland, 2008).