Athenaeum Library Book Arts Lecture

Special Lectures

“SPACE IS THE PLACE”: Modernist Fantasy and the Scientific Imagination in 20th Century Avant-Garde Art and Music

Presented by Charissa Noble


Thursdays, November 1, 8 & 15, 2018

All lectures begin at 7:30 PM



When we think of science fiction, what comes to mind? Campy alien costumes and overacting? Big blockbuster films that feature extraordinary special effects and predictable plot lines? Niche references to obscure pop culture books, comics, and films? Whether a devotee or detractor of “sci-fi” as a genre, perhaps what is less widely understood is how the scientific imagination has fueled numerous innovations in both art and music over the course of the 20th century. The quest to creatively evoke different realities has sparked radical ideas—both aesthetic and social—that have revolutionized art and culture. These imagined worlds speak to us as parables of our present, and through them artists have challenged the status quo, leveled acute social criticism, and cast a vision for under-represented communities. These lectures will trace the influence of the scientific imagination on modern art and avant-garde music from the 1900s to the present, and discuss how scientific fantasies have transformed how we think about art, ourselves, and our world.


CLICK HERE to read the San Diego City Beat interview with Charissa Noble.


November 1 » Mechanistic Utopias and Modernist Anxiety: Negotiating Visions of a Modernist Future in Early 20th Century Art and Music

Covering music, visual art, and literature, this lecture looks at creative responses to the breathless acceleration of the modern age at the turn of the 20th century, from the strident aggression of Futurism to the utopic visions of spiritual and scientific triumph over the ailments of humanity in Theosophically inspired art.


November 8 » Cyborgs, Star Climbers, and Forbidden Planets: A History of Women in Electronic Music, Scientific Fantasy, and Performance Art

This lecture traces the ways in which women of the avant-garde have pushed the boundaries of the artistic and social status quo through aesthetic innovations, from Johanna Beyer’s Music of the Spheres, to Bebe Baron’s groundbreaking film score for the film Forbidden Planet, to contemporary performance artist Laeticia Sonami’s cyborg- inspired Lady’s Glove.


November 15 » “Space is the place”: Afrofuturism in Avant-Garde Jazz, Hip-Hop, and Visual Culture

This lecture engages the idea that sci-fi can serve—and has served—those bearing histories marked by colonization and oppression as a powerful mode of storytelling that creates new narratives and casts alternative futures. Seeking to rework the story of modernization and expose the cultural biases built into technological advancement, Afrofuturism retells the story of Eurocentric modernity through a hybridization of aesthetic modernism and art forms of the African Diaspora. We will look at how works by Sun Ra, Laylah Ali, Octavia Butler, George Clinton, Kendrick Lamar, and others explore the question, “What would a uniquely Black technological future look like?”


About Charissa Noble:

Charissa Noble is a vocalist and PhD candidate in cultural musicology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Noble has a background as an opera singer, composer, and music theorist, and later earned a master’s degree in musicology at San Diego State University with a secondary emphasis in 20th century American art. Her research interests include 20th century experimental vocal techniques, electronic music, and performance art. Charissa frequently speaks in academic contexts, such as the national meeting of the American Musicological Society, the International Society for Minimalist Music, and recently, at Cornell University in February 2018. Additionally, her work has been featured in journals published by UCLA, USC, SUNY Buffalo, and the Society for American Music. She is also deeply committed to the advancement of the local arts scene in San Diego, serving the San Diego Art Institute as an exhibition scholar for Roberto Romero-Molina’s The Language of Things, the local chamber music organization Art of Élan in an educational outreach role, and also serving San Diego New Music as a creative consultant.


Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Room

Athenaeum Music & Arts Library

1008 Wall Street

La Jolla, CA 92037



Individual tickets: $12 for members / $17 for nonmembers

Series tickets: $30 for members / $45 for nonmembers



Online tickets are subject to ticketing fees.