Americana: Iowa

Futurological Retrospection: Claiming Captain Kirk
December 02, 2008 to January 10, 2009

The most famous Iowan of all time will be born in 225 years.

In 1985, Riverside, Iowa, declared itself the birthplace of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the lead character from the science-fiction television series, Star Trek. Set in the future, the program never established exactly where in the state Captain Kirk was born. Later, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, officially acknowledged Riverside's adoption of his character. By claiming Captain Kirk, Riverside replaced its anonymity with international (if not intergalactic) infamy.

Having first aired in 1966, Star Trek has since become a multi-billion dollar franchise with a cult following. For the past 24 years, "trekkies" have made the annual pilgrimage to Iowa for Trek Fest, celebrated as "the small town fair with a Sci-Fi flair." For remote places like Riverside, without distinctive historical significance and lacking in attractions to lure tourists, this appropriation of the fantastical is an increasingly common tactic. Following Riverside's lead, Vulcan, Alberta has capitalized on its name (Vulcan is a planet in Star Trek) and Linlithgow, Scotland declared itself the future birthplace of the Star Trek-character Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, born somewhere in Scotland during the year 2222.

Writers like Roddenberry birth their characters in small town settings to ground them in an image of simplistic, wholesome, down-to-earth humanity. By seizing upon the fictional characters they've inspired, places like Riverside claim their own characterization. What emerges is a feedback loop colliding fiction and non-fiction, which this exhibition enters into by tracing Captain Kirk's past back in time from the future.

Futurological Retrospection includes a genealogical timeline, a vile of dirt, photographs, and sound. Through research and speculation, Riverside-resident Michael Kirk's family history has been connected to canonical Star Trek history. Beginning with the birth of Michael Kirk's grandfather Joseph Henry Sr. in 1885 and extending to the birth of Captain Kirk's grandfather in 2155, the timeline eventually ends with Captain Kirk's death in 2371. The display also includes an image of the USS Riverside (a replica of Captain Kirk's spaceship, the USS Enterprise) on display in Riverside. While viewing, sounds from the USS Enterprise can be heard on headphones. The vile contains dirt from Captain Kirk's future birth site in Riverside, a site marked by a monument that has been depicted here in a lenticular flip photograph. Because monuments normally commemorate the past, Riverside, by preemptively commemorating a future past, has destabilized time, history, and the future.

Curated by Chris Fitzpatrick

Special thanks to Carol Butler, Michael Kirk, Bessie Kunath, Sam McGuire, Carol Riggan, and The Riverside Area Community Club, Riverside, Iowa.

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