Where Reality Ends

In a speech last fall, renowned science fiction author Ursula K Le Guin described her chosen genre as the art of creating “larger realities” that could allude to greater truths, surpassing the capabilities of “so-called realists.” For the 10 female artists included in “Les Oracles,” a science fiction-themed show that opened last week at XPO Gallery in Paris, Le Guin’s point rings true as artworks depicting fantastical renderings of dreamy, strange, and unsettling worlds hint at larger realities that might reveal something about our own.

Curator Marisa Olson deliberately handpicked only female artists, in part as a response to a recent upswing in unapologetically all-male shows in Paris, and in part to address the disempowerment or total absence of women in many science fiction stories. Based across the United States and Europe, Julieta Aranda, Juliette Bonneviot, Caroline Delieutraz, Aleksandra Domanovic, Jeanette Hayes, Kristin Lucas, Brenna Murphy, Katja Novitskova, Katie Torn, and Saya Woolfalk are internationally acclaimed and all but Lucas, Aranda, and Woolfalk were born after 1980. Selected works span video, sculpture, painting, and prints, and–notwithstanding an affinity for a space-age metallic sheen–vary greatly in aesthetics. Olson tackles the heterogeneity by breaking down the artists and their works by science fiction trope: “frontiers,” “mimicry,” “mythology,” “fantasy and cyborgs,” “evolution and change,” “prediction, invention, and novelty,” and “communication and transmission.” (View the slideshow to find out how the works relate to their respective trope.)

Although it is sprawling, the exhibition has a succinct purpose, according to Olson. “Sci-fi often errs on the side of trivial,” she says. “But I think as a form it can have a potentially utopian aim in the sense that [it can] imagine a new world, or a better world, or fantasize about the future.” Throughout the show, themes of the digital, the ephemerality of information, and the intermingling of disparate imagery provoke uncanny insight into our own internet-age conventions. It’s time to stop being realistic, to maybe see things more clearly.