“We are a curious race.” A truer statement was never made about humanity than this introduction provided by Colonel Jack O’Neill to the Asgard, a race of advanced yet cautious aliens, on Stargate SG-1. We humans are, after all, the only race that sticks its nose where fancy strikes, regardless of risk. We have an endless, unabating wish to discover the mysteries of the unknown, whether they lie hidden in the depths of space or in our own hearts.
Maybe that’s why we like science fiction so much (including the aforementioned Stargate, of course). It’s a genre that’s profoundly in touch with our human desire to know and discover, and it places on page and screen those very explorations, leading to a better understanding of ourselves and paving the way to answering all those questions we’re so curious about.
And, clearly, artist Martin Firrell thinks so too. He’s just released a sneak peak at his latest project, Metascifi, and this mysterious first look is possibly as tantalizing as the subtitle, which reads “Inspiration for Living Well from American Television Science Fiction.” Firrell’s project is a work of humanistic philosophy, a valiant attempt to discover how to live a good, meaningful, and productive lives through Star Trek, Stargate, Firefly, Farscape, and Warehouse 13.
The project itself is a series of interviews with the actors who have played iconic characters on these shows. They’ll be providing their own insights, drawn from the shows themselves and from working on them, about how to live life well (rather than investigating the content of the shows themselves, as one might think). Of course, answering the pesky question of how to live life seems like a tall order, but Mr. Firrell has a rather impressive line-up of stars portraying our favorite roguish heroes, captains, scientists, and aliens whose interviews will be part of the project: Nathan Fillion (Captain Mal Reynolds, Firefly), Kate Mulgrew (Captain Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek Voyager), Joe Flanigan (Colonel John Sheppard, Stargate Atlantis), Torri Higginson (Dr. Elizabeth Weir, Stargate Atlantis), Ben Browder (Commander John Crichton, Farsape), David Hewlett (Dr. Rodney McKay, Stargate Atlantis), Christopher Judge (Teal’c, Stargate SG-1), and several others.
One may wonder, of course, why Firrell eschewed interviews with writers, producers and other creators in favor of interviews with the actors, but he has a couple of very good reasons behind this decision:
“I chose to speak to actors rather than writer-producers [because] the audience has a pre-existing relationship with the performer who brought the character to life. So when I see Ben Browder for example, immediately I am starting to think about John Crichton or Cameron Mitchell, about wormholes and possibility. And so I like that shorthand.
The second reason is that the actors are the only people who have truly felt the character from the inside out – in order for us to have a sense of John Crichton, Ben Browder had to have a prior sense of John Crichton based on the writing or course and on the production and direction. But in the end, the performer must synthesize that into a whole. And it’s this synthesis that gives the performers a privileged position from which to speak about the characters, and also what the character has meant to each performer as they have been engaged in the act of embodying them.”
A series of interviews with science fiction actors may seem to be a strange way to go about the whole humanistic philosophy thing, but Firrell’s thought long and hard about what he’s doing. The project in its current form is the culmination of two earlier artistic endeavors undertaken by him and informed by the things he’s learned. The first project in question was “The Question Mark Inside,” a collection of contributions from individuals about what makes their lives meaningful and purposeful.
Firrell assembled a number of opinions, including those of ‘experts’ – philosophers and the like – added a pinch of his own, and projected the results onto St. Paul’s cathedral in London. The project led to the realization that there was no answer, or, rather, many, many answers. Then, a second project, “Complete Hero,” helped Firrell perfect his idea of what he was going to do: this project, like Metascifi, was a series of interviews, this time collecting the views of participants on heroism. One of the contributors was Nathan Fillion himself, who, along with his roguish on-screen persona, Mal Reynolds, sparked the desire to compare his character to other heroic scoundrels, such as John Sheppard from Stargate Atlantis.
The challenge then became that of finding a way to bite off a chunk of material large enough in scope and yet, at the same time, limited enough to be meaningful – thus resulting in the project’s limitation to American television. As for science fiction, Firrell hopes that “the sci-fi [will] draw people in, and then we could do some really deep thinking together.” He’s counting on science fiction’s passionate fandoms to create dialogue and allow the project to be an active, rather than passive, artistic experience.
Mr. Firrell himself seems to be one of the fans; he’s passionate and eager to engage in some of that deep thinking himself. He, too, is approaching this as a personal learning experience, and seems to have gotten a head start on the ruminations and insights this project will provide. He speaks passionately about the things he’s learned and his personal connection to them:
“I have learned from Christopher Judge that a disproportionate number of ‘good aliens’ have been portrayed by African-American actors, and he believes this is because it is not too great a leap for a black man to be seen as ‘positive’ and ‘good’ so long as he is from an alien species. I think Chris has a lot of important points to make about race – as does sci fi in general – and it is very exciting to me to explore these ideas in Metascifi.
On a personal note, I find Kathryn Janeway as portrayed by Kate Mulgrew, and [sic] incredibly inspirational figure and ditto Dr. Elizabeth Weir – leaders who engage their felinity to lead in a way that is different to men, and complimentary – in this sense, these female leaders show us new ideas about how to motivate people, create teams and get things done.
In all of the above, the most important a pressing issue is one of equality. How can any of us live good lives if some people are at a disadvantage – how do we live our daily lives richly, if we know someone else is impeded in doing so because they happen to be black or female. Equality, inclusion, diversity, these things seem to be at the base of any life well lived.”
Metascifi will be released as a digital app by the end of 2012. In a leap of ingenuity entirely fitting with the project’s theme of science fiction, Mr. Firrell’s chosen to adapt the form to the content and meld art and technology. He hopes this unique format for an artistic work will help users interact with the content in new, more rewarding ways:
“It has been designed to live on your smart phone or tablet so you can keep it with you, refer to it during your day, take inspiration for solving problems or seizing opportunities, and by inspired by the richness and depth of conversations that scifi can provoke. It is meant to be an active part of daily life, rather than a program to be watched. Keep it with you. You never know when it might come in handy!”
I guess this means I’ll have to join the rest of the 21st Century and finally buy myself a piece of technology that can actually download apps, because this looks like it’s the app for geeks like me.