by Vatsala SethiDec 31, 2022
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster is a French artist born in Strasbourg, France, who is known for her work with video projection, photography and spatial installation. Her current exhibition at Serpentine Galleries (UK) is a testament to her imaginative and experimental leanings which come together in a collaborative effort. The exhibition takes place in the central rotunda of Serpentine South Gallery, and explores the idea of falling in love with aliens. Yup, you read that right the first time! Alienarium 5 presents several works by Gonzalez-Foerster including immersive installation and video art, with a healthy dose of sound and music accompanying it. The showcase is a fusion of inspirations, sprinkled with references to literary, architectural and musical influences.
Alienarium 5 brings together virtual reality, installation, sound and even scent to create a surreal experience. Gonzalez-Foerster deftly constructs a multi-tiered narrative, illustrating it by using a tool-belt full of materials and media. Her experimental practice explores the different modalities of sensory and cognitive relationships between body and space. This art exhibition, although conceptualised and conceived by Gonzalez-Foerster, is a collaborative effort. Musician Julien Perez worked with the artist to produce the sound for Holorama 5 as well as Metapanorama. Perfumer Barnabé Fillion came together with Gonzalez-Foerster to develop a scent for Alienflowers (holorium), which engages the olfactory senses. Planet Carpet (Uranus) is crafted with the guidance of Ivan Murit. Using a wide palette of influences and collaborators, Gonzalez-Foerster creates a speculative environment for the viewer.
The central inquiry presented at the exhibition, which looks at the idea of aliens falling in love with humans, brings into play many thought experiments. If one is to accept the definition of aliens to be extra-terrestrial beings from outer space, then the association might immediately be to ET, the 1982 Hollywood classic by Steven Spielberg. Of course, the immersive exhibition is an unmistakable, magical expression of Gonzalez-Foerster’s long term interest in science fiction, and continued research into alien life and deep space.
However, to my eyes, the exhibition is an exploration of divisions, and the journey of falling in love across those distinctions and discriminations, borders and boundaries. This phenomenon might be invisible to the privileged eye, but across the world people’s love and compassion for the “other” is regularly suppressed and even persecuted. We marginalise, and then we oppress the outliers. We silence them and then treat them as though they are not made of the very same stuff as us. As if they were not even human - as if they were aliens. But if we take a minute to consider the possibilities of acceptance, of merging and hybridising we might find the potential for greater beauty and greater strength. The results could be life-changing. In many ways, the 21st century brings the old and new nose to nose. As we throttle full-speed into the future, we meet with the universal truths embodied by ancient wisdom. The surreal and otherworldly nature of the exhibition transports the viewer to a hypnotic realm, toying gently with these socio-political undercurrents.
The curator of Alienarium 5, Claude Adjil, speaks to STIR about the journey toward building the showcase, which extends far beyond only this exhibition. “Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster has had a longstanding relationship with the gallery. Our first collaboration was in 2012 and Dominique and Hans Ulrich have had a dialogue and friendship for over 20 years. Dominique was also in a group exhibition at the Serpentine in 1993. So, when we finally began working on this exhibition five years ago it really felt like it had been many years in the making of this show,” she tells us. The enduring relationship between artist and gallery has enabled both to reach beyond curatorial norms, to build the scaffolding for new possibilities. Adjil continues to say, “What I find so striking and inspiring with Dominique is how her work is constantly challenging the notion of what an exhibition can be and what one can expect from that experience and making it a total sensory environment and creating a whole new world”. She concludes by saying, “It is always a privilege to work with an artist who is so involved in their exhibition. When it’s something site specific then it is also hands on.”
Gonzalez-Foerster is the recipient of the 2002 Marcel Duchamp Award and has been exhibited worldwide, including at the Venice Biennale (Italy, 1990, 1993, 1999, 2003, 2019); Documenta 11, (Kassel, Germany, 2002); Centre Pompidou (Paris, 2015); and Secession (Vienna, 2019). The artist was commissioned for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, London in 2008–2009. Alienarium 5 will be on view until September 4, 2022.