From Remote Stars - R. Buckminster Fuller

Headshot of Sarah Smith in a black topBy Catherine Danko

July 2022

FIMS scholar and curator Sarah Smith is a member of the From Remote Stars research team, which included an exhibit that ran at Museum London from March to May 2022.

Sarah Smith has a stake in re-visiting a futuristic vision of London, Ontario through a contemporary lens.

An assistant professor in the Faculty of Information & Media Studies and newly named Canada Research Chair in Art, Culture and Global Relations, Smith was a primary investigator on the From Remote Stars project (2017-22), which took shape as an art exhibition, catalogue, and podcast examining art, speculative futures and R. Buckminster Fuller’s visit to London in 1968.

Fuller was a systems theorist who envisioned a future encompassing everything from solar energy to flying cars, and believed that earth was a limited resource to be shared equally among those who occupied it. He visited London in 1968 at the height of his fame to discuss his utopian visions for the city as well as the role he saw for it within North America.

R. Buckminster Fuller commemorative stamp designed by Carl T. Herrman, 2004Among those he spoke to during his six-day visit to the city were local architects, industrialists, artists and Western University students who admired his forward-thinking views on sustainability, architecture, and transportation. Fuller’s most famous contribution to the field was the geodesic dome, a structure known for its immense strength in relation to its weight. Examples of buildings that incorporate geodesic domes include the Montreal Biosphère (built for Expo ’67) and the Ontario Place Cinesphere.

Smith, who identifies as a scholar and a curator, worked closely with Professor Kirsty Robertson in the department of Visual Arts at Western University, researching Fuller’s visit to London. Together they examined archival records in London and Toronto and also looked at art produced in the period of Fuller’s visit and the contemporary moment.

“The project is a chance to examine this recording of Fuller and its context, to think about that moment in London. But it is also a chance to more fully consider the ideas Fuller raises in the recording - ideas about our future and the planet. These themes resonate today as much as they did in 1968." - Sarah Smith

Although Fuller came to the city to produce a report titled “London of the Future,” Smith says that no such document was found—instead, remnants of Fuller’s visit include photographs, news articles and an audio recordings of a talk he gave at the London Hunt Club. This stream of consciousness lecture was recorded by local artist Greg Curnoe and is included in the exhibition at Museum London. It has not been publicly presented before and offers visitors a window into Fuller’s visit and his ideas.

From Remote Stars also questions Fuller’s vision for the future and complicates them. Smith says that contemporary issues such as climate change, big data and artificial intelligence, as well as privilege speak to some of Fuller's limitations.

“Fuller had a vision of what things should be and what we should pay attention to,” says Smith.

“The exhibition and podcast go beyond what happened in 1968, to think through Fuller’s ideas for the future from our current context. The point of the project is to explore Fuller’s visit and its impact, but to also push back on his limited vision for progress.”

The exhibition at Museum London brought together the work of 22 artists from the 1960s to the present, a mix of historical and contemporary art that showcases a range of media including video, photography, painting, and installation. The exhibition also included ephemera and photographs related to Fuller’s visit.

“As curators, we are interested in complicating discussions of the future. So in the show we brought contemporary artists into the conversation to feature multiple and competing visions for potential futures.”

Some of the artists featured in the exhibition included Shuvinai Ashoona, Christina Battle and Curnoe, the artist who recorded Fuller’s speech in 1968.

Smith says that the exhibition was originally planned to open in 2020 to coincide with a symposium, however it was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Smith and her team reimagined their plans for the symposium as podcast. The result was a three-part miniseries, with two supplementary interviews, centred around the recording of Fuller and bringing a range of artists, curators and scholars into the conversation.

From Remote Stars opened at Museum London on March 5, 2022, and ran until May 15. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue that is forthcoming in 2022.

Smith was assistant professor in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton University before joining the Faculty of Information and Media Studies in September 2021. Her research explores cultural diplomacy, focusing on the roles and contributions of artists, culture workers, and arts institutions.


Stamp image: R. Buckminster Fuller commemorative stamp designed by Carl T. Herrman, 2004.

This profile is part of a series written by graduate students in MMJC 9604 Professional Writing, during the Winter 2022 term. Profiles have been edited by FIMS Communications staff for clarity.