by Aaron Wilder, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Roswell Museum
“Skin Like Distant Stars (excerpt),” 2016 by Wayne Hodge, Digital C-Print – Courtesy of the Artist
Partially in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the “Roswell Incident,” the Roswell Museum’s Executive Director Caroline Brooks and I have co-curated an exhibition entitled Future Shock: (Re)Visions of Tomorrow. This large exhibition inhabits three galleries at the museum and overlaps with the city of Roswell’s annual UFO Festival. One aim of ours is to offer to UFO Festival attendees a plurality of artistic perspectives rooted in concerns about humanity’s shared future and our place in the universe. The exhibition features 15 national and international artists exploring our connection to outer space, science and technology as well as the feature-length film A Machine to Live In co-directed by Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zeilke and produced by Sebastian Alvarez.The term “future shock” is defined as a state of distress or disorientation due to rapid social or technological change. The phrase is believed to have first been used by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner in 1963 in a joint presentation to the National Council of Teachers of English.
It was Alvin Toffler with his wife Adelaide Farrell who really broadened the use of the term academically in the 1970 social sciences book Future Shock. Their book characterizes “future shock” as a psychological state as individuals and whole societies grapple with too much change too quickly. This rate of change, they argue, is alienating, disorienting, overwhelming and stressful.
In 1972, Orson Welles narrated a documentary film based on Toffler and Farrell’s book. The term “future shock” then moved from the academic realm to popular culture through music. Curtis Mayfield’s 1973 song entitled Future Shock was covered 10 years later by Herbie Hancock in 1983 on his 35th album entitled Future Shock. This album was lauded as a groundbreaking experimental combination of funk and jazz styles with electronic music. Hancock won many awards for both the album and related music videos. In a 2020 review, Richard Grinell of AllMusic said that Hancock’s album “makes quite a post-industrial metallic racket. Frankly, the whole record is an enigma; for all of its dehumanized, mechanized textures and rigid rhythms, it has a vitality and sense of humor that make it difficult to turn off.”
Like the term itself, evolving from the social sciences to electronic music, the works in this exhibition connect with aspects of “future shock” through a plurality of artistic perspectives. While the rate of change these artists are reflecting upon may be staggering, through their work we can see a multitude of possible paths to alternative futures. The artists employ a range of strategies, including exploring materiality, imagining, immersing, juxtaposing, and layering to present a (re)vision/revising/re-envisioning of tomorrow.
One of the artists in the exhibition Future Shock: (Re)Visions of Tomorrow is Wayne Hodge. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Hodge’s practice fuses together components from diverse mediums, including collage, performance, and photography. Having received a Master’s of Fine Art degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey, he has exhibited his work across the U.S. as well as in Germany, Brazil and China. Included in the influential exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Hodge’s work explores the intersections of fantasies of race and desire, history and media. He employs imagery from historical documents, popular media and the field of science fiction.
Works from multiple of Hodge’s collage projects, including his ongoing Android/Negroid series, is on display in the Roswell Museum’s Donald B. Anderson Gallery for the exhibition Future Shock: (Re)Visions of Tomorrow. For Android/Negroid, Hodge juxtaposes fragments of historical depictions of African and African American subjects with bits of illustrations of machinery from science fiction. In this critical dissection and combination of real and imagined imagery, Hodge re-imagines the impact of the forces of modernity and deliberately situates notions of history and future ambiguously jumbled together. Inspired, in part, by the work from the Dada and Surrealist movements, Hodge deliberately composes his images to draw attention to what he sees as a conflict between representations of an exoticized and racialized “other” and mainstream fantasies and speculations about possible futures.
The alternative futures his work imagines include stories of Black astronauts and robots. Enigmatically, Hodge’s work predominantly utilizes 19th and 20th century photographs of Black subjects, replacing body parts with mechanical apparatuses. Two works from Hodge’s Android/Negroid project are included in the exhibition along with two related letterpress works entitled Homunculus and Slave Ship. The latter of these two letterpress works depicts a cross-section of what appears to be an engineering diagram of a Venusian space ship as articulated by someone who claimed to have been visited by aliens from the planet Venus. Hodge has replaced the interior of the space ship with a 19th century depiction of African children abducted from their homeland being transported into a life of slavery in the Americas through the Middle Passage.
Another of Hodge’s projects, Skin Like Distant Stars, is featured in Future Shock: (Re)Visions of Tomorrow in the Roswell Museum’s Russell Vernon Hunter Gallery. On a trip to Germany several years ago, Hodge experienced a 19th century optical device, the Kaiserpanorama, that predated cinema. The bulky wooden apparatus featured small windows like nautical portholes viewers peered through to view rotating images, often depicting racialized, “anthropological” photographs of indigenous people from far away lands colonized by Europeans. For a 2016 exhibition at Hallwalls in Buffalo, New York, Hodge built his own versions of the Kaiserpanorama with rotating collages of Afrofuturist imagery.
About this work Hodge has said, “As Surrealism (gave) way to the fantastic, I have also incorporated early science fiction illustration. What results from these retro science fiction elements is a reverse-engineering of the subject, an analog prototype for the current dialogue around Afrofuturism. For me, the question is this: How do I as an artist of color contend with unsatisfactory and inadequate forms of representation? What I create is an alternative narrative that is fantastic, novel, and defies an easy categorization. It gives me a context to critically challenge the perceptions of and exclusions between high and low, modern and vernacular.”
While the original Kaiserpanorama forms of Skin Like Distant Stars no longer exist as their bulky forms made transportation and storage extremely expensive, the Roswell Museum has worked with the artist to feature original imagery from this project in a way that has never before been exhibited. We are hoping the altered presentation format and scale of a subsection of the original images will continue to invite reflection and critical thinking, as the artist originally intended, in a new way.
In this exhibition, Wayne Hodge, in his project Skin Like Distant Stars, and other artists break down the past/future dichotomy of how we think of time as well as multiple other polarities or binaries in how we are imagining the universe. Furthermore, Hodge, in his Android/Negroid, Homunculus, and Slave Ship works, and other participating artists transform bodies through (de)construction, the productive use of chaos, and critiquing the myth of limitless “progress” by creating hybrid forms hovering between reality and fiction.
The exhibition Future Shock: (Re)Visions of Tomorrow is on display in the Roswell Museum’s Donald B. Anderson, Spring River, and Russell Vernon Hunter Galleries through October 2022.