Museums and pop culture – especially SFnal pop culture – never used to occupy the same space. They still don’t, on the whole, but in Warrnambool, a country town in western Victoria, that juxtaposition is on offer until 28 January.
The Warrnambool Art Gallery’s Invasion exhibition is housing the touring British exhibition of SF costumes, props, promotional figures and replicas for the duration.It’s an eclectic mix of material from TV shows and films, including Red Dwarf, various Star Trek series, the Alien and Predator films, Dr Who, Metropolis, theDune series, Lost in Space, The Chronicles of Riddick and The Black Hole.
It’s always fascinating to see the make-believe up close, to see what it looks like before celluloid, clever lighting and post-production turn cloth and rubber into facsimiles of a more real-looking world. There’s artistry not only in the original design, then, but in imagining how these things will transform through another medium (film and the screen) to look different again. That’s two layers of creative vision right there.
Museum staff said that some locals found it all a bit odd – what’s a costume from a TV show doing in an art gallery? But staff also said that the exhibition attracted all manner of visitors: not just the expected SF geeks, but people interested in design, fashion, craftwork and models.
Is it because this form of art and design is commercial that it gets so little respect from the average punter? Is it because this form of art and design is used to entertain instead of being ‘serious art’?
To me, these costumes and models being made for entertainment doesn’t make the skill and imagination behind them less admirable. The gorgeous and enduring art deco design of the robot from Metropolis is an amazing piece of work, no matter its origins. The reflective, padded suit from Red Dwarf’s holoship is both ridiculously shiny and completly evocative of that too-shiny, too-perfect concept of a ship. The Dalek pepperpot is simple and almost mundane but also evocative of fascist uniforms (and uniformity) and has been an enduring symbol of evil for TV viewers since the 60s. That’s not just script – that’s excellent design work.
One particularly cool thing about the Warrnambool exhibition is that visitors can get up close to the displays and see the fine detail on how these things were made: the warp and weft of the material; the paintwork on the models; the shortness of some of the molded outfits that indicate Patrick Stewart and Matt leBlanc are both much more petite than I would have thought!
Warrnambool has other pleasures on offer, by the way, including a lovely bay beach, an old cinema and some very nice cafes, so if you have some time and an inclination to indulge either your geek interests or passion for craft, art and design, it’s a lovely time of year to visit the coast.
Full disclosure: I travelled to Warrnambool courtesy of V-Line and visited the gallery as a guest of the Warrnambool Art Gallery.
Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.