The domestic spaceship: visions of future home-making in the production design of Serenity’s communal living spaces

O'Brien, Sorcha (2015) The domestic spaceship: visions of future home-making in the production design of Serenity’s communal living spaces. In: Space Craft : Ladies and Gentlemen, we are floating in space; Nov 2015, Kingston upon Thames, U.K.. (Unpublished)


Wash: That sounds like something out of science fiction! Zoe: You live in a spaceship, dear. Wash: So? ‘Objects in Space’ Episode 14, Firefly, 2002 The interior of the International Space Station has become familiar to millions through the 2013 Youtube video of Canadian astronaut Commander Hadfield singing a cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. The video showed a space station interior densely populated with cables, switches, screens and the technical paraphernalia, with only Hadfield’s guitar and his tiny padded bunk showing any hint of the crew’s personal or domestic lives. Many film and television visualisations of life in space focus on military space craft, with the domestic living arrangements modelled on existing military crew quarters, paying little attention to either private or domestic spaces for small groups. However, this paper will consider one vision of how we might live a future mobile existence in space, based on the interior of the spaceship Serenity, the main set for the short-lived American ‘space western’ TV series Firefly (2002) and the subsequent film Serenity (2005). The Serenity is a rickety, patched-up multi-purpose Firefly-class cargo transport, running dodgy goods between colonised planets in a future where the authoritarian ‘Alliance’ has recently won a war of unification. As well as the science fiction genre conventions of bridge, crew quarters, med-bay and cargo hold, the Serenity also contains a number of communal leisure spaces which function as kitchen, dining room and sitting room for the small group of crew and passengers, reflecting the long term nature of their residence on the ship. This paper will look at the evidence of active home-making processes at work in Serenity’s communal interior, particularly in relation to the transient, precarious existence of the crew. The paper will consider the communal domestic spaces in relation to both the Early American decorating styles and the visions of American homes shown in the Western genre, as well as the attempts to incorporate Asian elements into the design, to reflect the projected American-Chinese governmental alliance. As well as the visual references to other modes of transport such as submarines and airplanes, it considers the influence of mid-century American mobile homes on the design of the space ship itself, providing another layer of cultural context to the show and film. It also looks at the incorporation of mid-century modern design elements into the production design, particularly modernist furniture and layouts influenced by California Modern, and the added layers of meaning that they add to this vision of the future. In analysing the furnishing and decoration of these communal spaces, as well as the way that they are presented on screen, the paper considers production designer Carey Meyer’s efforts to portray a comforting, cosy American domesticity based on the past, and past visions of the future, while also critiquing the way in which these heroic visions have turned into a reality of static mobile homes and a single crowded space station.

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