Synthetic: Imagining History and Future


As so many critics have told us, contemporary art has an obsession with history. With a wide array of artworks and exhibitions based upon documentation, nostalgia, memory and reconstruction, art has been charged with an inability to look towards the future. Synthetic at the Australian Centre for Photography (ACP) considers this impasse, looking at how the photographic image can provide a space between our known past and speculative futures.

Bringing together the work of seven artists, Synthetic holds that the imagined futures of science fiction are now part of our day-to-day lives. The show thinks through Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein’s ‘future history’ narratives, where the task is to postulate a history of the future.

Rather than seeking to resolve our historical narratives, Cherie McNair, director of ACP, explains how the exhibition looks at what it truly means to speculate the future.

“Photography intersects technology, art and science and this exhibition exposes imaginations of the past, future realities and an uncertain future,” explains McNair.

“Each of the works in the exhibition demonstrates the melding of art and science and encourages the viewer to determine what each work reveals about human desire and expectation around technological advances and a science fiction imagined or entirely possible future.”

Simon Del Favero’s work extends these themes by considering how we perceive the space around us. The artist’s images evoke a post-human view, implying that space is an interactive process of people, objects and machines; humans are no longer the centre of activity. Meanwhile Vincent Fournier’s staged images evoke multiple parallel realities and journey into the narratives that have captivated our recent imagination, including space exploration and artificial intelligence.

David Greenhalgh presents a large-scale archive digitisation project in Synthetic, while David Manley draws upon a series of dystopian urban scenes. Garry Trinh’s photographs also look toward what some may consider a rather dystopian scene; the Australian suburb.

Alongside these artists sit the contributions of Soda_Jerk, a two-person art collective who are known for working at the crossroads of documentary and speculative fiction. In Synthetic, the multidisciplinary duo approach image sampling as way of crafting alternate histories.

The show also conjures hyper-real portraits and cyber-enhanced bodies through the work of Petrina Hicks, whose photographs both invoke, and disrupt, commercial imagery and traditional portraiture.

Australian Centre for Photography
21 July – 26 August

Preview Words by Tiarney Miekus