Beam up (take the elevator) to the New Museum's 5th floor, and you have entered a vision of the "past future." The three-room area has been transformed into a spaceship from a parallel history, one where Cold War predictions of the future came true.
Designed by guest curators tranzit—a name that signifies the transitory nature of Eastern European countries—"Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module" gives 117 artists from Eastern Europe, including Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Bucharest, and Bratislava, the spotlight. The show includes tranzit's original research, like a slideshow of Soviet modern architecture, as well as works from important Eastern European artists like Babi Badalov, Josef Dabernig, Miklós Erdély, Tamás Király, Eva Kot'átkova, Jiří Kovanda, Július Koller, KwieKulik, Denisa Lenhocká, Lia Perjovschi, Société Réaliste, and others.
While the spaceship, which the New Museum built from a variety of materials (including pool noodles) using tranzit's sketches, points to a specific point in time—versions of the future from the Cold War era—it also collapses history upon itself. In one room, the spaceship's storage cabinet holds works from Eastern European artists across history in an anti-chronological jumble. Heinz Frank's 1969-70 Daybed made of aluminum tube-shaped trumpets sits below Tamás Király's dress constructed of plastic piping from 2006-7. The purposefully random collection is filled with dreams (and darker nightmares) of the future. As tranzit explained during a curatorial walk-through this morning, it's how members of an alien civilization would treat the human race.
The spaceship is also home to many video works on various screens, including a built-in camera for Skype sessions that will occur during the exhibition's run. By introducing today's technology into a "past future," time once again seems to wrinkle.
The New Museum's show, while focused on Eastern Europe, fits into the trend of international artists' looking to space for inspiration. In London, The Arts Catalyst has created an embassy for the "Republic of the Moon," imagining what an outpost on Earth would look like if we colonized the moon. Ai Weiwei and Olafur Eliasson launched the website MOON, which allows users to leave their marks on a virtual orb. For many, space is a democratic and communal place of exploration, a utopian vision not so different from that of the Cold War era.
Speaking of this fascination with science fiction in art and also literature and film, tranzit's director Vít Havránek said, "I think it’s a way to understand a future that is actually kind of liquid. I think we try to approach the current through this future imagination because we are not able to imagine the future as such. We imagine it through our experiences, through our current identification.”
The New Museum presents us with a future—one that was dreamed up a long time ago—and lets us transpose our present onto that imagined history. It's a very out-of-this-world experience.
"Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module" runs until April 14, 2014 at the New Museum in New York.
Photos by Liz Barclay