A VISIONARY EXHIBITION OF NEW ART IN HONOR OF THE LEGENDARY SCI-FI WRITER
OCTAVIA E. BUTLER
Feb. 24 – March 2 | ALL DAY until 10 P.M.
@ LIVE WORMS GALLERY, 1345 GRANT AVE., SAN FRANCISCO, CA
FEATURING: BLACK KIRBY, PAUL LEWIN, NIGHTMARE CITY, DANIEL MCKERNAN, RASHEEDAH PHILLIPS & MANY MORE
— THE EXHIBITION WILL ALSO FEATURE … —
Parables of the Future
AN INTERACTIVE PERFORMANCE ART & SCIENCE EVENT
PRESENTING DRAMA, POETRY, MUSIC, DANCE & THE LATEST RESEARCH ON TIME TRAVEL
Feb. 27 – Feb. 28 | 7 P.M.
ALSO @ LIVE WORMS GALLERY, 1345 GRANT AVE., SAN FRANCISCO, CA
WITH PERFORMANCES BY: BRONTEZ PURNELL, SHINNERRIE JACKSON & MORE
& FEATURING “TIME TRAVEL 101,” A PRESENTATION ON THE REAL POSSIBILITIES OF TIME TRAVEL,
BY DR. RONALD MALLETT, A RENOWNED RESEARCH PROFESSOR IN PHYSICS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT
Both events are free.
Visionary Art Meets Cutting-Edge Science in Gallery Exhibition and Performances Celebrating Black Feminist Sci-Fi Pioneer
San Francisco, CA — An international group of both established and emerging artists, from the Bay Area to Berlin, will come together in February to present two unique art events honoring Octavia E. Butler (June 22, 1947 – Feb. 24, 2006), the first black woman to come to prominence as a writer in the traditionally white and male world of science fiction.
Though Butler’s writings won wide acclaim in her lifetime — including two Hugo Awards, two Nebula Awards, and a MacArthur Genius Fellowship — the influence and reach of her work has truly blossomed in the 10 years since her untimely death. Her many books — including “Kindred,” “Fledgling,” and “Parable of the Sower” — describe time travel, vampires, and alien civilizations, but they also tackle difficult subjects like slavery, rape, and the survival of the human species. For this reason, activists in the feminist and racial justice movements — as well as artists and writers of all stripes working within the burgeoning Afrofuturist movement — have come to see Butler as a kind of patron saint, and today, her work continues to inspire major figures in pop culture and high culture, from Janelle Monae to Junot Diaz.
In celebration of Butler’s legacy, “Octavia’s Attic: ARTifacts From Our Possible Futures” will open at San Francisco’s Live Worms Gallery on Feb. 24, featuring more than two dozen artists — ranging from young wunderkinds to those who have exhibited at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. The week-long show’s diverse selection of works — drawings, paintings, sculptures, textiles, video, and interactive installations — will seek to “explain” a secret left unresolved in her classic novel “Kindred.” In the book, a black woman (not unlike Butler herself) is drawn back in time to a slave plantation in the Antebellum South, but readers never learn how this time travel occurs.
In “Octavia’s Attic,” however, many of the artworks are “time machines” or “time-navigation tools” that we can imagine were discovered hidden away in Butler’s attic after her death. With the use of these mysterious objects, according to the show’s conceipt, Butler explored time, space, and alternate dimensions. Meanwhile, other artworks are “artifacts” that she brought back with her from those other planes of existence.
“The conceptual narrative of the ‘attic’ coupled with the organic genius of Butler’s storytelling technique makes for a wonderful curatorial framework in which artists from multiple practices can express a multitude of interests,” said John Jennings of the artistic duo Black Kirby, whose arresting posters and projections are “artifacts” in the exhibition.
Jennings, who is an associate professor of art at the State University of New York in Buffalo as well as a central figure in Afrofuturism, is also illustrating the graphic novel adaptation of Butler’s “Kindred.” “It’s a great honor, and I’m thankful to be a part of an event that is celebrating the life of such an extraordinary person,” he said.
The list of other contributors to the show includes: the other half of Black Kirby, Stacey Robinson; the Los Angeles/Berlin art duo Nightmare City (Keturah Cummings and Carol Anne McChrystal); the international video artist and “curatorial enfant terrible” Daniel McKernan; the Oakland Afrofuturist painter Paul Lewin; the Philadelphia-based Afrofuturist writer, artist, and curator Rasheedah Phillips; the Oregon-based spoken-word poet and “Octavia’s Brood” anthology co-editor Walidah Imarisha; and others. Many originals and reproductions of the artists’ works will be on sale.
Here are just a few of the show’s highlights:
Kaile Glick, a New Orleans-based poet and performance artist, will be in residence at the gallery all week, presenting an adaptation of her ongoing project “The Spontaneous Prose Store.” As part of her performance, Glick — whose poems have appeared in “Forum,” “16th & Mission Review,” and “Broken Pencil Magazine” and who has been interviewed on CBC Radio and Bill Bradley’s “American Voices” on Sirius XM Radio — will compose unique texts based on Butler’s words for each gallery visitor. (Her work will be in keeping with the theme of the exhibition because in her performance, she will play the part of Butler’s former traveling companion and notetaker on their many journeys through the universe.)
Daniel McKernan, an internationally known video artist and curator whose installations and short films have been shown at major institutions like New York’s Museum of Modern Art and London’s The Horse Hospital, will present “The Ex-Dream Time Machine,” a new work created specifically for “Octavia’s Attic.” “The concept of the time machine also conjures the notion of a ‘temporal slip’ — a shift related to worldly as well as spiritual affairs,” McKernan said. “Anyone who has ever merely dreamt has experienced a disruption in their consciousness — an otherness not unlike the notion of hallucinatory time travel. … This piece attempts to stimulate one’s brain in a way resulting in loss of sense of time or space.”
Rasheedah Phillips, an attorney, science fiction author, and Afrofuturist impresario, will present “Psychotemporal Transcranial Stimulation Device (PTSD) Prototype,” an installation that will also allow gallerygoers’ minds to experience the past without actually going anywhere. “The psychotemporal transcranial stimulation device (PTSD) uses a noninvasive method to stimulate several targeted brain regions responsible for memory and time perception,” Phillips said. “The first model of the PTSD allows the user to ‘functionally’ relive not only their own memories with perfect clarity and consciousness but also the memories of others, given the massive amounts of collected data that we have synthesized.” She added: “Using Afrofuturism and science fiction as lenses, the PTSD manipulates space-time using everyday tools such as memory, dreams, and music.”
But that’s not all. …
Parables of the Future
On Feb. 27 and 28 only, Live Worms Gallery will also host “Parables of the Future,” a remarkable set of live performances, featuring drama, poetry, comedy, music, dance, and time travel science.
The following are just three of the phenomenal acts on the schedule:
Brontez Purnell, the Bay Area-based performance artist, indie rocker, and choreographer, will present (with Wizard Apprentice) an untitled improvisational dance duet meditating upon the notion that “the future is now.”
Dr. Ronald L. Mallett, author of the best-selling memoir “Time Traveler” — and about whom the iconic Hollywood director Spike Lee is currently working on a biopic — will present “Time Travel 101,” a lively and accessible lecture on how Einstein’s theories prove that some types of time travel (such as travel to the immediate future) already exist on small scales and that others (such as travel to the distant past) may someday be possible.
Shinnerrie Jackson, a lauded New York actress known for her role in “Ain’t I a Woman?” — one-woman show portraying historical figures like Sojourner Truth and Zora Neale Hurston — as well as for her TV work on shows such as NBC’s “30 Rock,” will perform “Octavia Speaks,” an original piece based on Butler’s texts that will bring the writer back to life for the gallery audience.
“The concept for the shows is based on the ‘many-worlds interpretation’ of quantum mechanics, which essentially says that for every possible outcome of every situation, a new universe springs into being,” said Channing Joseph, the curator and producer of the exhibition and performances. “In the universe we live in, you may be wearing a plaid shirt today, but in another universe, you are wearing polka dots. In this universe, Octavia Butler may be dead, but in another one, she is still alive and writing books. For quantum physicists, the ‘many-worlds’ view is old news. They came up with it as a way to make sense of some of the weird results of their experiments. But when you really think about the implications of it, it’s a notion that means not only that all things are possible — but that all possible outcomes have occurred, that your scariest nightmares and your wildest dreams are already real — that perhaps there is a universe where time travel and even magic are possible, too.”
Joseph added: “My hope for ‘Octavia’s Attic’ and ‘Parables of the Future’ is that they will not only provide an opportunity for art enthusiasts to discover fresh and provocative new art but that they will also give people a chance to reflect on the power of art to help us imagine a more beautiful future for ourselves and our world. This is something that all of us need from art, but I believe it is particularly true for people of color and LGBTQ folks because we have so often been told that we need to keep our heads down and accept the cynical notion that the injustices of the present will be the injustices of the future.”
Brontez Purnell, a fixture of the Bay Area arts scene, believes that although the two art events are focused on tomorrow, they can compel viewers to consider the here and now.
“The people we watched protesting in those ’60s videos we saw growing up were hoping that this would be the ‘better day’ and in some ways it is, and in some ways we are still very much fighting the same damn monsters,” Purnell said. “One thing I love about Octavia is that she used the metaphor and ‘cloak’ of sci-fi and fantasy to address things that were actually happening in the present.”
“Octavia’s Attic” and “Parables of the Future” are just two of several independently organized events being held around the same time across the nation in honor of the 10th anniversary of Butler’s death, including planned conferences in Southern California and Atlanta.
The curator and the artists warmly welcome coverage of the gallery exhibition and performance events by members of the media. If interested, please contact the curator directly.
Here are a few possible story ideas:
A broadcast or print interview with the curator, Channing Joseph, about the importance of science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative genres in revealing truths that can sometimes be difficult to address through nonfiction. As a literary journalist, essayist, and media critic who has taught students at the State University of New York and at Oberlin College, he can share his unique perspective on how people often are better able to absorb harsh truths through the speculative arts because they see them as fun and as ways to escape from reality. (See curator’s bio on page 8.)
An interview with Dr. Ronald L. Mallett, who can speak about his cutting-edge scientific research into the possibility of building a time machine based on Einstein’s famous special and general theories of relativity while also addressing the important roles that science fiction and art can play in inspiring young people of color to enter careers in science and technology.
An interview with and profile of John Jennings — an art professor, curator, illustrator, and central figure in Afrofuturism — who can speak with authority about the rising popularity of Butler in conversations around racial justice and why Butler has become such an important inspiration for activists, including those in the Black Lives Matter movement.
A review or preview of the gallery exhibition and performances. Please contact the curator for scheduling.