This Artist's High Kitsch, Sci-Fi Universe Will Make You Believe in Aliens
The first episode of Megan Broadmeadow's "Seek-Pray-Advance," on view at London's CGP Gallery, uses extra-terrestrial tropes to question if we're really alone in the universe.
Megan Broadmeadow, Seek-Pray-Advance, Episode 1: Eyes Only. Image courtesy of the artist & CGP London.
Space is hell: unfathomable depth, sheer emptiness. Stare into the abyss, as Nietzsche said, and it’s nothing that stares right back. Art has long tried to pave over this mental hole, soothing us by inventing creatures to populate the void. In the era when Galileo first saw Jupiter’s moons, Milton gave us the spacefaring guardian angels of Paradise Lost; in the dying years of the Space Age, Ridley Scott’s Alien brought us terror instead. But either way, these creations have provided entertainment, ways of passing the time. Despite Frank Drake’s equation hinting at millions of civilizations out there, Enrico Fermi never received a proper answer to his question—“Where are they?” Government UFO surveys date back to the 1950s, the latest one being former US Senator Harry Reid’s hunt, and still there’s no good evidence that any visitors have come. We seem to be all alone.
In the end, all our images of the “alien” are constructs—we learn about them from the big screen, feed them back into our imaginations, generate the same pictures again. Artist Megan Broadmeadow, whose show Seek-Pray-Advance is in its first episode at London’s CGP Gallery, has an eye for the mundane origins of these extra-terrestrial forms. Telling an obscure story of alien observations and close encounters, she’s fused a heap of weird stylistic tropes—B-movie staging, lenticular clouds, a mess of lurid New Age color—into an environment of self-satirical kitsch.
You enter the CGP Gallery through a giant snakehead, then zig-zag through low-lit mirrored corridors. On the walls are sickly-green monitors, displaying phrases like, “People don’t snap into psychosis, they slide.” From the beginning, you’re anticipating a shock—it’s a horror script, a jump-scare funhouse. This isn’t to undercut the effect; all good space films are horror films, not just in the gory sense of Alien or last year’s Life, but the weird meditations of Solaris or Sunshine. As Mark Kermode put it, since the 1960s intelligent cinema has known that “outer space becomes inner space.” When the mind touches the void, it recoils, and generates its own fear.
Entering the gallery’s main room, transformed into an “alien surveillance station,” you come across table screens set in small plastic frames. They loop a number of short silent films, collectively titled The Watchers, in which isolated people walk along distant clifftops and hills. The flying shots imply surveillance by drone; they catch up with the tiny human figures, zero in through a magnifying lens, and transfix them on the spot. A screen which fills the facing wall is showing a vast, fuzzy cloud, occasionally lit by strobe lightning—more kitschy B-effects.
In the gloomy “mystic cave” around the corner, another large screen plays Broadmeadow’s film She’ol; this is the name of the Old Testament underworld, a grave for both the glorious and inglorious dead. Down in this version, a character simply called “Ordinary Person”—who’s doubled as male and female, in a looping sequence—drifts through a series of crypt-like chambers and passages with iridescent, pulsating walls. Our boggle-eyed protagonist meets the “Anguine Twins”—snake-headed creeps with beads for mouths—and the “Mother of all Personas,” played by Broadmeadow herself. She wears a bright blue feather boa, and emits an aura of bobbly golden orbs.
Looking up at the night sky, all we can do is throw up our hands, and ask, well, do you think they’re real? Episode 1 of Seek-Pray-Advance both poses that question and refuses to answer; in each of its elements, it leads a satirical double-life. Aliens, New Age visions, and phantoms from other dimensions: these are the things that adults secretly believe in, and often fear, and they’re also the things that they mock idiots or kids for inventing. Moments in this installation are eerie—the swooping camera in The Watchers, the boxheaded figures in She’ol—but when things are patently plastic, or flaunt their origins in a trope, they flaunt their artifice too.
Being fascinated by a belief doesn’t mean assenting to it, so Broadmeadow can have her kitsch both ways. From one angle, her alien environment is baffling and strange, and presages odd things in future episodes; from another, it’s already dead, a bunch of cheap replica objects. The moral is an earthier one. Without any evidence coming from intergalactic hell, our two stances towards alien life—sincerity and irony—co-exist better as an account of ourselves. Put them together, as Broadmeadow does, and they tell you how doggedly we produce and recycle culture to distract ourselves. It may be a hollow task, but for now, it’s all we have.