In Los Angeles from the 1930s to 1950s, science fiction reading groups and occult communities helped pave the way for the LGBTQ equality movement.
These groups offered safe places for LGBTQ artists, scientists, publishers, and visionary thinkers who worked together to envision and create a world of their own, free of society’s contempt for the LGBTQ community.
The ONE Archives at the USC Libraries will explore this uncharted part of queer history in the exhibit “Sexual Science and the Imagi-nation.”
The exhibition will be part of the ambitious Pacific Standard Time, the regional arts collaboration that debuted in 2012.
The next edition of Pacific Standard Time is scheduled to open in 2024 and will explore the intersections of art and science at an unprecedented scale.
“The project ‘Sexual Science and the Imagi-nation’ will showcase how people who lived outside of established norms were drawn to science fiction and used science fiction publications and groups to build and sustain rich, imagined communities,” ONE Archives curator Alexis Bard Johnson told Q Voice News.
The exhibition is uniquely suited to the ONE Archives, Johnson said, because Jim Kepner was a key member of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society and the Mattachine Society, the first gay organization in the U.S., and a creator of science fiction and early homophile publications.
Kepner’s collection of gay history also is the foundation for the ONE Archives.
The Getty Foundation announced Wednesday $5.38 million in exhibition-research grants to 45 cultural, educational, and scientific institutions throughout Southern California to prepare for the massive arts collaborative. Pacific Standard Time is a Getty Foundation initiative.
A second round of grants from the Getty Foundation, to be announced at a later date, will support implementing the exhibits, according to a press statement announcing the grants. Several additional projects are in development, including exhibition and programming partnerships, and also will be announced in coming months, the statement said.
Throughout history, art and science have had a sometimes acrimonious relationship. In the press release, Joan Weinstein, director of the Getty Foundation, said she believes “the remarkably diverse and inventive approaches taken by all the partner institutions will produce revelatory results and productive civic dialogue.”
Johnson said several questions will drive the ONE Archives’ research:
- Why did early homophile organizers gravitate toward science fiction?
- How did science fiction fan clubs and publications influence the beginning of the LGBTQ movement?
- What did science fiction, with its emphasis on science, offer that genres like fantasy did not?
- Given the current renewed interest in gender and sexual fluidity and rejection of binaries and labels, what can we learn from turning back to this period before the solidification of LGBTQ identities?
- How did innovations in science and science fiction encourage this moment?
The ONE Archives curatorial team’s deep dive will include visits to archives and private collections of sci-fi, occult, and LGBTQ materials across the U.S. as well as the United Kingdom and consultations with other researchers to craft the exhibition and related public programs.
They will also trace the activities of organizations like the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, Ordo Templi Orientis at the Agape Lodge, and ONE Inc.
Ultimately, “Sexual Science and the Imagi-nation” will showcase illustrations from science fiction magazines, visual artworks in a variety of media, and early sci-fi fan costumes that bring to life the rich imaginative worlds of these intersecting communities.
Pacific Standard Time will include dozens of simultaneous exhibitions and programs at a variety of venues in Southern California, including LACMA, the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County, the California Institute of Technology, the Southern California Institute of Architecture, the California Museum of Photography at U.C. Riverside, and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
Apart from LGBTQ history, Pacific Standard Time programming will address complex challenges of the 21st century — from climate change and environmental racism to COVID-19 and artificial intelligence — and the creative solutions these problems demand.
“Sexual Science and the Imagi-nation” will be displayed at the USC Fisher Museum of Art.
ONE Archives previously organized two Pacific Standard Time exhibitions: “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.” in 2017-2018 and “Cruising the Archive: Queer Art and Culture in Los Angeles, 1945-1980” in 2012.