Review of 'Into the Unknown: A Journey Though Science Fiction'


I am a fan of Science Fiction so when I heard of this exhibit at the Barbican I knew I had to come to check it out. The reviews have not been all that positive but I wanted to give it a shot. The paid access to “Into the Unknown” consists of a a main exhibit in the “Curve” exhibition space along with two other smaller elements “In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain”, a short film, and “In the Light of the Machine”, an art installation.

The main exhibition is split into sections: “Extraordinary Voyages” telling the origins of Science Fiction, “Space Odysseys” where Science Fiction starts looking to the stars, “Brave New Worlds” talking of world-making and destruction then “Final Frontiers” covers the reinvention of humanity itself. These themes are told though a series of artefacts including many from film. I particularly found the Ray Harryhausen dinosaur miniatures incredible to actually see close up, the masks from the Stargate movies, props from Interstellar and a number of robots including the one from the classic “Forbidden Planet” movie.

Each of the pieces has a description and often a slight narrative though this is often confused as it jumps dramatically as you move from piece to piece. That is, as others have already said, the great weakness of this exhibition is that it seems more like merely an assembled collection of, albeit very cool, Science Fiction objects rather than attempting to be revelatory in anything that is said. So, don't expect to learn anything but do expect to see some neat stuff.

Outside of the exhibition area the other pieces are entirely artistic in nature rather than specifically Science Fiction (though using Science Fiction tropes to tell their message).

“In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain” (video; 29 minutes; 2016) is a rather unusual story of a fictional “narrative resistance” (yeah, I know) group that attempts to subvert history by implanting pottery fragments in the ground (yeah, I know). The effects here are good but I found it generally unenlightening and, frankly, boring.

“In the Light of the Machine” (mixed media; 2017), on the other hand, is very cool though I have no idea what it means - A robot arm moving around a light source at the end of an arm in the middle of a set of concentric rings of monolithic sheets of paper with holes cut out of them. In the pitch black of the room the shadows that the light makes all around you as you walk amongst the piece along with the amplified sound of the robotic movements is quite mesmerising.

There are a number of other free pieces throughout the building including a set of computers that you can play which have Science Fiction-based computer games from the past and present installed located near the exit of the exhibition hall. There is also a set of short films playing on the wall in the same area which I found quite enthralling: “Afronauts” (2014) telling the imaginative story of a set of Zambians attempting to send a young boy into space on the eve of the Apollo 11 landings, “Invisible Cities” (2017) which is a series of scenes from a train showing real and imagined views of modern cities, and “Pumzi” (2009) which is another African short film set in a water-scarce future where a woman living in repressive society and shielded from a devastated surrounding landscape finds hope that life might still be possible on the outside…

So, generally, an interesting exhibit with lots of neat things to see but don't expect to take away any particular message. Still, quite an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

Rating: “It is OK but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2017-08-23

Barbican Centre

Location: London (England)

Address: Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS, UK

Public Transport: TUBE Barbican TUBE Moorgate NRLOGO Moorgate

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7638 8891


The Barbican Centre is in the middle of the brutalist Barbican housing complex. The centre is a mixed-use arts venue with theatres, cinemas (in the basement), galleries and library as well as dining facility (both cafe, buffet and fine). The facilities are quite good and there is always something going on.

Regardless of how you get here you will probably end up walking through the Barbican so watch for the signs directing you to the Barbican Centre itself as the complex is quite large.