Guise magazine published a piece by Sarah Jennifer Heeley about Blade Runner's noir-influenced costume design. Blade Runner is still the pinnacle of sci-fi art and design for me, and marks the high point of a great year of sci-fi cinema. If you doubt, consider this list: E.T., Tron, Videodrome, Mad Max 2, Star Trek II and The Thing; every film excelled at some aspect of cinematic design.
Each unit in Blade Runner was clearly working in some kind of perfected tandem. I can't even consider a costume, prop or set from the film without imagining it as part of the whole scene. More impressive is how the design hasn't suffered much parody after all these years, unlike Return of the Jedi from the following year, even with the joke-baiting noir genre as its baseline. Still all of a piece within its own universe when watched today, the pathetic fallacy, existential angst, lighting and characterisation are all referential but never stand in front of the film itself. Other films have followed, such as Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor and Gattaca, but those films suffered from what Blade Runner did not, self-conscious reverence.
For other great films with noir-influenced design in a sci-fi universe check out the godfather of the genre, Godard's Alphaville from 1965, or Lars Von Trier's 1984 film The Element of Crime.
Scotland's Africa in Motion film festival has just finished so I thought I'd write about the African sci-fi and fantasy cinema that is of particular interest to me.
Afrofuturism is an aesthetic born of the African diaspora and found in afro-centric visual art, music and literature. The aesthetic unites science fiction, historical and alternate-history fiction, magic realism, fantasy, and African myths in the context of 20th-century technoculture. Originating in the music and persona of Sun Ra, but defined by Mark Dery in his 1995 essay Black to the Future, the Afrofuturist aesthetic foregrounds Black agency and creativity. Sandra Jackson and Julie Moody-Freeman, in The Black Imagination and the Genres, define the core principle of Afrofuturist fiction as:
“Imagined futures in which African descendant people as well as other people of color are neither conspicuously absent nor marginalized as background or expendable characters, but…instead not only present but rather active agents—protagonists and heroes—in events which take place here on the planet Earth or elsewhere in the universe, set in the past, alternative pasts, distant and near future times”.
Although conceived outside of Africa by Afro-Americans, Afrofuturism has a proven reflexive relationship with the old continent. The separation between the speculative fictions of the diaspora and native Africans is less distinct that in the 1950's, when Afrofuturism was born. Looking at African speculative fiction and fantasy cinema through the scope of Afrofuturism connects the geographical separation from heritage felt by the Afro-American artists to the dehistoricisation and cultural alienation inflicted on native Africans by colonial oppressors.
The artist and writer Tegan Bristow, in her article We want the funk: What is Afrofuturism to the situation of digital arts in Africa?, published in the journal Technoetic Arts, considered how the ideas developed through Afrofuturism are being explored in contemporary African arts. Often this development is discussed alongside the unique use of communications technology by Africans, such as the Kenyan phone banking system or BRCK. Although often dismissed as technologically backwards, and therefore unable to express the same speculative fascination with technology as the West, Africa defies simple stereotypes and is producing great science fiction and fantasy art, from an African perspective. Afrofuturism is now more than just an American aesthetic, being taken up by Africans and becoming a more global celebration of Black culture.
Blue Caprice (2013)
Art & Design
All contributions by Kieran Gosney unless otherwise stated.
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