Artists Using Science & Technology
Jules Verne & Beyond
No. 8, July/August 2007
Francisco, USA, 2007
illus. 9 b/w.
Dr Eugenia Fratzeskou (London)
YLEM is an international organisation
of artists, curators, writers, scientists,
educators and art enthusiasts, that has
been established in 1981 before ISEA began.
The mission of YLEM is to "explore
the intersection of the arts and sciences"
and "to bring the humanising and
unifying forces of art" to science
and technology. YLEM has enabled artists
to engage with science and technology
in imaginative and pioneering ways outside
the limitations of academia and the art-world,
and cultivated the appreciation for such
artworks. The YLEM members include pioneers
of computer art, whose influence is evident
in art education and the broader context.
The YLEM website presents the history
of YLEM and an impressive array of initiatives.
The particular issue focuses on Jules
Vernes work, following the centennial
(2005) of his death (1828-1905) and the
renewed interest in his novels by literary
scholars, science fiction writers and
film-makers. Loren Means editorial
introduction includes an informative review
of World Weavers: Globalisation, Science
Fiction, and the Cybernetic Revolution
(edited by W.K. Yuen, G. Westfahl and
A.K. Chan, Hong Kong University Press).
The issue contains Ryder W. Millers
article on Verne, two interviews with
science fiction authors Bruce Balfour
and Elizabeth Bear (conducted/edited by
Means), and a short introduction to the
upcoming YLEM Forum on sculptor Bruce
This issue offers an extensive and balanced
account of the ways in which science fiction
has evolved in relation to the scientific
and technological advancements (particularly
AI/AL and cybernetics), the growth of
urbanism and the changing socio-political
conditions. Challenging insights and interesting
questions emerge on the much-debated relationships
between those domains. Means discusses
how international and hard science fiction
novels are marginalised because of the
domination of "English-language fantasy"
and the "American entertainment industry"
(p. 2). Means presents the highlights
of World Weavers, the most
telling of which include T.Tatsumis
essay on Kubricks 2001 film,
for grasping the tropes of the "classic"
science fiction of "outer space"
and the "inner space of the New Wave
science fiction" and, moreover, how
cyberspace has emerged through the "transcultural
clash" between "iconographic"
and "ideographic imagination"
(pp. 3, 14). Other highlights include
the loss of individualism in the cyberspace
and global "megacities" (p.
Miller offers a stimulating and comprehensive
account of Vernes contribution to
science fiction. It is interesting to
follow Millers argument on why Verne
is considered the founder of modern hard
science fiction, rather than Wells, Shelley
and Poe. Verne was fascinated by the scientific
endeavour of his time and acquired the
scientific knowledge that enabled him
to respond to the intellectual challenges
of science and to predict some modern
technological advancements. Verne engages
with new scientific and technological
inventions, explanations and possibilities,
enabling the reader to become an explorer
and a learner. Furthermore, Verne asks
questions that concern the potential
social consequences of the development
of technology, such as, its use for warfare.
comparisons can be made between Means,
Miller, Balfour and Bears arguments.
Apart from the quality of a writers
engagement with science, the relationship
and genres of fantasy and science fiction
can be determined by the degree, type
and purpose of their "cognitive estrangement"
(D. Suvins term, p.5). Those genres
may present a different perspective on
ourselves and the changing world, as well
as propose new worlds. Science fiction
engages with the upcoming fields of technological
innovation instead of simply presenting
fantastical worlds. Nevertheless, it is
not enough to predict technological and
scientific developments and envision the
future. Apart from exploration-based,
science fiction may be also adventure-based
using problem-solving and strategic logic,
introducing alienation and subversion
for enabling social critique through posing
important challenging questions and new
ways of thinking. It may be thus, possible
to gain an understanding of our changing
society and ourselves, while avoiding
escapism and an exclusive focus on futurism.
Balfours interview reveals the changing
relationship of science fiction
films to computer games.
The early graphic adventure games
have been based on problem-solving and
role-playing for finding codes and breaking
into secure databases. Nevertheless, the
emphasis is placed on iconography in the
latest computer games (shooter-type).
It would have been stimulating to include
a larger section in the journal that deals
with those issues.
issue would have benefited from including
a special section on how artists have
been engaging with all those fields (science
fiction, cybernetics, AI/AL, computer
games, globalisation etc.) and their relationships.
That section may have included artists
statements, critical essays, interviews
and good quality reproductions of their