Radio Imagination: Artists in the Archive of Octavia E. Butler

Radio Imagination: Artists in the Archive of Octavia E. Butler

As 2016 winds to a close, a lot of us are looking back on the past year, and (with some trepidation) forward to 2017, and wondering how we managed to arrive at this particular time and place. ‘How could we have missed….?’ – fill in the blank. The short answer is that we simply weren’t able to imagine it. It takes a special kind of imagination to create a vision, whether idealized or dystopian, of an evolving (and/or disintegrating) reality out of personal observation and the materials at hand. The American (and Pasadena native) writer, Octavia E. Butler, called hers a “radio imagination” and, from her prolific output of science fiction, we can understand this description. It takes a kind of multi-frequency mode of looking and listening, and an acutely prehensile capacity for speculative exploration to conjure these variously forward and backward-looking visions of worlds that might be our own – in slightly altered molecular or astrophysical configurations. Given a different scope, Radio Imagination would have to be considered one of the most visionary exhibitions of the past year. The artists who have entered the ‘mothership’ of The Huntington Library’s Butler Archive, have each engaged and returned with their individual interpretations of aspects of Butler’s imagination: the acute alienation of an African-American woman marginalized by social and racial barriers; her simultaneous sense of inter-connectedness and eco-symbiosis (and necrosis); her will to manifest this larger, encompassing view, to radically project the implications of her observations, extrapolate and boldly fictionalize and fantasize upon them; her ability to parallel and project the African-American experience into futuristic, even extra-terrestrial, constructions. The show includes work by Connie Samaras, Cauleen Smith, Lauren Halsey, Laylah Ali, Malik Gaines and Alex Segade, and Mendi and Keith Obadike. But, true to Butler’s visionary spirit, the show takes us still further – returning us finally to the incomparable domain of Butler’s novels.

Armory Center for the Arts
145 N. Raymond Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91103
Show runs thru January 8, 2017