A Dystopian Destiny: Mars & Beyond at the Oxo Tower Bargehouse, South Bank
This exhibition, in the bewitching semi-derelict Bargehouse, seeks to warn us of the future we are building ourselves as a species. It paints a portrait of our failures as a society over the 21st century, and our attempts to rebuild anew on Mars. The rainforests have gone, and microplastics have saturated our oceans. Artist Oskar Krajewski of Art Recyclism has amassed a number of artists to fill the Bargehouse with a range of different artworks to tell a future tale of destruction and renewal.
Each artist has their own take on the theme, and Krajewski himself creates apocalyptic cubic model cities which are tremendously detailed and paint a fearful story of our later years. This is no Tomorrowland. Recycled Future gives a hint of our relationship with waste, although Colony on Mars has a slightly more happy neon-tinged image of our future.
Themes of climate change, deforestation and loss of biohabitats feature elsewhere in the exhibition, often as flashbacks of mistakes we have made. Many of the artworks use waste and recycled materials, and others use augmented reality and stereoscopes to good effect in producing a show with a gentle footprint.
Although the exhibition bills itself as immersive, it is more of an interactive experience rather than an immersive one. Many of the artworks can be touched or played with, and wireless headpones act as an adjunct for some of the pieces, but it is hardly teamLab: Borderless. Regardless, it’s good fun especially for the kids. I was surprised how much enjoyment six and seven-year olds were getting from scenes which would have probably given me nightmares at their age. It was particularly surreal to watch three young children hypnotised by a short and graphic film which showed the replacement of our human bodies by androids.
There was a few empty spaces which I thought were meant to be for some live experiences, but nobody was there when I attended at 2pm on a Sunday. I suspect that fear about the current COVID-19 outbreak could be the reason for this. Indeed, there were odd facemasks on the stairs, not an intentional piece of art but something which I had never experienced before in the United Kingdom.
The star of the show is the charming Bargehouse — this building is something special. It has a fascinating history, originally King James I’s Royal Barge House before it became a meatpacking factory and now findings its role as a house for temporary art installations. The crumbling exterior of the building is mesmerizing, decorated with the names of the nine muses of ancient Greece.
Exhibition dates: Until 15 March 2020