Did Jules Verne ever read Margaret Cavendish’s ‘The Blazing World’, published in 1666 alongside her ‘Observations upon Experimental Philosophy’? As you read what is often considered the first published work of Science Fiction, with such things as ships that can travel under the sea, you immediately think of Jules Verne who published his own works of Science Fiction two centuries later, though Cavendish also interweaves issues of gender and power, thus perhaps being an early feminist writer.
Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673), was, by all accounts, quite a character. She herself appears in the ’The Blazing World’, as the confidant and advisor of the central character – a young woman who had been abducted and eventually became the all-powerful Empress in a parallel world (‘The Blazing World’) to that from which she had come, a world into which she plans to return to do battle against its potential destruction, along with her army of Fish and Bird Men, and she was the first woman ever to be invited to attend a meeting of the Royal Society; her interest in science is perhaps illustrated by the Fire-Stones in her writing which presumably was phosphorous. At one time, she was a lady in waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria and accompanied her into exile in France.
Wouldn’t it be an interesting idea would to use this relatively imaginative book which both looks backwards and challenges the future looking forward as the basis for an exhibition of contemporary art. This is what they have done at Sǀ2 in London with Arik Levy’s reflective ‘LogCorners’ weaving through the ground floor and Nanda Vigo’s ‘Cronotopos’ providing the focus on the lower floor against which are works by Anna Zemánková, Charlotte Podger, Charlotte Johannesson, Tishan Hsu, Peter Hujar, Stano Filko, Clementine Keith-Roach, Marguerite Humeau, Paul Thek and Fred W McDarrah.
I challenge you to guess the dates of the different artworks – some which look old and classical were in fact created in the last two years; others from the 1960’s look very contemporary, bringing us back to the parallel and connected worlds of ‘The Blazing World’.
A great idea, with a catalogue which is in fact a copy of ‘The Blazing World’ itself, introducing visitors to this fascinating story which today is little known, interspersed with illustrations of the artworks.