From Remote Stars: Buckminster Fuller, London, and Speculative Futures at Museum London

By Kim Neudorf

From Remote Stars, curated by Kirsty Robertson and Sarah E.K. Smith, is inspired by Buckminster Fuller‚Äôs six-day visit to London, Ontario, in 1968, wherein the futurist, systems theorist, and architect met with artists, city planners, architects, and students at Western University. The poetic title comes from a recording of a lecture, or ‚Äústream of consciousness‚ÄĚ monologue, given by Fuller during his visit. Topics ranged from sustainability, physics, design, and a ‚Äútechno-utopian‚ÄĚ vision of the planet mixed with what London might be like in the future. The exhibition, featuring the work of 22 artists from the 1960s to the present, directly and indirectly explores Fuller‚Äôs ideas, highlighting gaps in his visions of progress and utopia. In line with Fuller‚Äôs support for environmental awareness and an avoidance of wasteful living, The Centre for Sustainable Curating, directed by Robertson, influenced the curators‚Äô exhibition design decisions, such as the use of paper signage to replace vinyl and making use of low-impact, accessible materials when available.

In didactics and related exhibition materials, much is made of the eponymous recording of Fuller‚Äôs visit provided by late London artist Greg Curnoe. In a podcast that further explores the larger research project of the exhibition, participating artist Christina Battle and curator Robertson vividly describe the recording‚Äôs often ‚Äúindecipherable‚ÄĚ quality, full of non-sequiturs and white noise. Due to Covid restrictions preventing earphone use, Fuller‚Äôs lecture is only partially audible through parabolic speakers in the Ivey Gallery‚Äôs already echoey space, but this is alleviated by helpful wall texts positioned throughout the exhibition.

Jessica Karuhanga, being who you are there is no other, 2017, two single channel videos (courtesy: Museum London)

Fuller makes specific reference to London‚Äôs uniqueness and ‚Äúintegrity‚ÄĚ as a location between Detroit and Toronto, how London is ‚Äúbeing protected by lakes north and south,‚ÄĚ and how the Thames River/Deshkaan Ziibi (its non-settler name not acknowledged by Fuller) is ‚Äúso out of sight‚Ķthe community is no longer aware‚ÄĚ of it. Several exhibiting artists speak directly to the history of London‚Äôs waterways. In a painting by Kitaay Bizhikikwe/Amanda Myers, symbols, structures, and figures tied to Indigenous knowledges are overlayed atop many of London‚Äôs colonial structures of progress, illustrating histories, cultures, and ways of being that are absent from Fuller‚Äôs thinking. In Jessica Karuhanga‚Äôs large video projection, visible from inside and outside Museum London, two Black women move and dance through trees and tall grass, mirroring the movement of the land and river nearby. The dancers‚Äô bodies follow the movements of water and plant life around them, hindering attempts to locate them in and separate them from a specific, static idea of landscape.

Christina Battle, are we going to get blown off the planet (and what should we do about it), 2020, video installation (single-channel HD video with sound, fabric curtain)

During his visit, Fuller talked of trying to find ‚Äúsome idea of‚Ķthe pattern‚ÄĚ of the ‚Äúambitions and hopes of the community‚ÄĚ of London, predicting that in the future, the city may no longer be as inhabited. The exhibition‚Äôs curators are careful to point to Fuller‚Äôs leaning towards London as a place ‚Äúnot for the person who stays put,‚ÄĚ which was very much against the grain of local artists‚Äô then championing of Regionalism and the importance of its creative communities. Referencing a piece named after Fuller‚Äôs encounter with well-known London noise group The Nihilist Spasm Band, Kelly Wood turns their durational din (and Fuller‚Äôs unknown reaction to it) into a 2D print of textural sound, effectively redistributing and reconstituting an event otherwise suspended in the mythic status of Fuller via London‚Äôs historic art scene. In a video and installation piece by Christina Battle, excerpts from Fuller‚Äôs talk appear between images of storms, flowers, insects, birds, minerals, glaciers, and various organic forms juxtaposed with space tech, touristy snapshots of beaches, aerial views of cities, and geometric patterns. Fuller‚Äôs quotes, suggesting a search for larger patterns in ‚Äúthe invisible,‚ÄĚ are updated as warnings of climate change and the ever-prevalent existence of surveillance technology. In these works, Wood and Battle evoke the presence of artists and perspectives left out of Fuller‚Äôs fraught idea of London‚Äôs hopes and dreams, gesturing towards a reimagining of his abstract patterns as information made manifest in the present.

Skawennati, She Falls for Ages, 2017, machinima

In addition to referencing Fuller‚Äôs iconic designs oft linked to a utopian, Modernist architecture (such as the geodesic domes in photographs by Jade Doskow, and less directly, in Dan Patterson‚Äôs ‚Äúproto-utopian‚ÄĚ structure built from Carnation milk cans), many artists are more in conversation with Fuller‚Äôs idea of Spaceship Earth, an idea of the planet as a space craft designed for long-term existence. In Skawennati‚Äôs video She Falls for Ages, the Haundenosaunee (Iroquois) creation story of Sky Woman is envisioned in a futuristic Sky World, rendered in the virtual space of Second Life. The stiff, artificial movements of Second Life‚Äôs figurative design create a sense of temporary, potential form through which identity and story can continue to move and evolve. In David Hartt‚Äôs video In The Forest, thick overgrowth in the outskirts of San Juan overtakes the remains of the 1967 Modernist ‚Äúhabitat puerto rico‚ÄĚ structures by architect Moshe Safdie. The video searches slowly in spaces between the two worlds, exploring temporal, living intervals where animal bones, spider webs, lizards, plant life, and evidence of contemporary life now inhabit desiccated and vacant spaces. In one instance, holes in the metal structures appear as windows or portals to worlds both metal and plant, an optical illusion where what is inside is also outside.

Exploring the scope and range of the exhibition‚Äôs multiple works, well beyond the length of this review, has been made accessible by the curators beyond the exhibition space through a related website, podcast, lists of suggested reading, and upcoming programming. In the intro episode of the podcast, Battle‚Äôs humorous description of listening to Fuller as ‚Äúmaybe you get some of it‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúmaybe you zone out‚ÄĚ is like a kind of welcome permission to dip in and out of his prophesies and broad theories, following their trails and echoes in the complex and timely conversations between the artists‚Äô works and Fuller‚Äôs ‚Äúoften narrow‚ÄĚ visions of the future.

An upcoming online conversation between author Cal Flyn and participating artist Jade Doskow take place on April 7. Register here.

From Remote Stars continues until May 15.
Museum London: http://museumlondon.ca/
The gallery is accessible.

Kim Neudorf is an artist and writer based in London (ON). Their writing and paintings have appeared most recently at McIntosh Gallery, London (ON); DNA Gallery, London (ON); Paul Petro, Toronto; Franz Kaka, Toronto; Forest City Gallery, London (ON); Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, Kingston; Evans Contemporary Gallery, Peterborough; and Susan Hobbs Gallery, Toronto. Instagram: @kimneudorf