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"dystopia" Tag


Utopia on a small scale


Friday, October 28, 2016

Utopia could be characterized as a place where all the problems we experience every day have been resolved. And for that, it could be a way to criticize the society we live in. Utopia is also a no-place as the etymology of the word itself tells us. And for that, it is a place that has not and also can not be realized. Nevertheless, utopian thinking has been and still is a basis for political ideas. A scale model can be one of the steps for developing or realizing a project. So isn’t it just so smart to combine the two ideas in one’s artistic practice?

I’d like to start with – maybe the most famous utopian scale model – Monument to the Third International. Tate.org.uk calls it the “world-famous symbol of utopian thought”. It is a never realized project for a communist building that was supposed to serve various governmental purposes. But it is also a symbol of modernism, for it was the first project using steel and glass. And in its ambitions – at this time it was supposed to be the highest building on earth – we see the utopia. It looks in a way like the biblical Tower of Babel – the symbol of man’s vanity -  a building so great and enormous it cannot exist. Even though the tower has never been realized, it is vital in our Europian culture. Not only as a part of Russian avant-garde history, but as a symbol of utopia.

Tower Bawher Theodore Ushev : National Film Board of Canada

Utopia is a social project, but as history shows us trying to implement it in society fully can be fatal. Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn tries to do so on a smaller scale. He has made sculptures referring to various philosophers and thinkers like Antonio Gramsci, Baruch Spinoza, George Bataille or Gilles Deleuze. He places his works in selected areas, where with members of the local communities it becomes a sort of inclusive, intellectually stimulating event. His sculptures seem to be social scale models. Scaling not space but time. Making use of their temporality. Hirschhorn calls them “social commitments”.

I want to make non-hierarchical work in non-hierarchical spaces. The work is not something more in the museum and something less in the street; this is essential for me. I am concerned by equality and inequality in all forms. Thus I do not want to want to impose hierarchies (…) I am not interested in prestige. I am interested in community.

Thomas Hirschhorn, Interview with Okwui Enwezor, 2000

 Be sure to see it for yourself:

 
Spinoza Monument in Bijlmer Amsterdam, 2009
 
and
 

Thomas Hirschhorn: "Gramsci Monument"

Another artist that plays with the idea of utopia is Bodys Isek Kingelez. He builds scale models that represent the future state of cities/villages that already exist in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What the cities are in his scale models is not necessarily the desired way he imagines future, but rather a capitalist utopia – an inevitable way in which cities are transformed in a logic of consumerist society. Depending on how you look at it – it could be a utopia or a dystopia.

Kimbéville is a real town witch, given time, will exist; it is not an effigy made up of well-known brand names witch is doomed to remain a maquette. (…) This maquette is a promise of something real. The attractions of this town include a plethora of services, hotels and restaurants. Sometimes with an American flavor, sometimes Japanese, Chinese or European, not to mention African fare. 

The town has it all, from sun-up to sun-down, and for forever and a day. The artist, Kingelez, prophet of African art, is striding towards a new world witch is more modern, more prosperous and a better place to live.
Bodys Isek Kingelez, The Essential Framework of the Structures Making up the Town of Kimbembele-Ihunga (Kimbéville), 1993-4

 

Utopia is a way to criticize the society we live in. Dystopia serves the same role but utopia does so by providing/imaging an alternative to what we have, whereas dystopia points out the risks that society might face in its development. Dystopia is a utopian project that went wrong.

(…) there remains something subversive about these attempts to celebrate the beauty of utopia as inherently totalitarian while maintaining a critical distance from the implications of this attraction.

Pil and Galia Kollectiv - The Future is Here

The ultimate dystopia has been indeed realized in a history of human activity and probably is still in realization in places like North Korea. But for western people, the most horrifying part of the world’s history is likely to be the Second World War. The unimaginable dystopia that has been created by the Nazi government is the concentration camp, where the idea of efficiency has been realized to the point where a mass genocide could be profitable in the logic of capitalism.
Polish artist Zbigniew Libera has made an art piece in dialogue with this historical fact. It’s 1996 “Lego. Concentration Camp”. He used popular Danish construction toy to make a scale model of a concentration camp.

IslBG
Holocast LEGO 1996 by Zbigniew Libera ©2016

 

The island of Utopia


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A page of the 3rd publication from the first english version of Utopia, made in 1597 by Raphe Robinson

A page of the 3rd publication from the first english version of Utopia, made in 1597 by Raphe Robinson

 

The book Utopia was published in 1516 by Thomas More. The word itself means “nowhere”, from the ancient Greek language. As it is said, it was written to give an example of a better society rather than the one of  Europe in the sixteenth century could be like.

As I started reading it there was just one question that kept arousing into my mind: how could the Utopians be so willing to obey the rules? Was More making use of his famous black sense of humor when he designed them?

The Utopians are a group of devoted, placid people; they all dress with the same garments and eat in big cantines. Their sense of community is greatly strong. They agree with all the rules. But that sounds so atypical. More, as many other utopians have done, created a little society where human feelings as fear, hate, jealousy and rage almost didn’t exist.

In fact, many utopic authors created a world in which these feelings didn’t exist either. Like the dystopian work of Aldous Huxley, “A Brave New World”, in which humans take pills to be constantly happy. Most utopias are made to terminate all bad feelings. But why not learn to control them and coexist with them? The deeper the pain, the deeper the joy. A world without these feelings would be a passive world. And in a passive world, there’s little space for big strokes of imagination and self-thinking. How boring would that be…
 

An example of how the island of Utopia could have looked like Isola_di_Utopia_Moro
An example of how the island of Utopia could have looked ~ how it was illustrated in the first edition

 
That lead me to think that most utopias are dangerous. As they represent the most ideally perfect aspects of society/mankind, and perfection is a subjective concept, they are very susceptible to not to fit the personal needs of every human being. So they can easily set apart any person who doesn’t correspond the same ideal, and put her in a cage.

Hitler almost realized his own utopia, and drove many people to serve him in this savagery. Maybe the others could sympathize with him because they saw, too, the heaven in Hitler’s mind. However after the discovery of the Holocaust, utopias could never be the same.

I’m not sure if I could, as many people do, relate that much Thomas More to the humanists of the 15th century. They put for the first time men before God, seeked the ability of the human being to think by itself and break with traditions, and supported more the science rather than the superstition. Thomas More was a deeply religious person, and he even stated being God’s servant when he was executed. However, his book Utopia pursues the finest achievement of a human community in what regards society organization, behaviour and education. So to have gone gone so deep into the matter, shouldn’t More have had a real passion for humanism?

More’s book is not easy to read. Used as we are, “free” educated thinkers from the 21rst century, to judge and compare everything with our current times, I think it’s difficult to put yourself into the mindset of the 15th century. I believe it’s a truly visionary book to be written back in that time, when religion had a considerable place in the european population, taking big imporance in every act.
 
atenas Renaissance artists from the 15th century seeked, too, to find perfection and utopy in the human body

Renaissance artists from the 15th century seeked, too, to find perfection and utopy in the human body

And exactly 440 years after Utopia was published, Constant Nieuwenhuys started working in New Babylon. His structures were motivated by the devastated cities he saw after World War II; he started thinking about how architecture influences daily life, and how it creates a specific environment depending on its shape and interior organization. When I thought about Constant and More together, I couldn’t imagine such differents idealists. But as soon as I started going deeper into his ideals, and tried to understand them, I could see some resemblances. On one hand, I think they were united by the fact that they both had a fascination for anthropology. Constant and More put a great effort into imagining, each one their own way, ways to enhance culture and society. What would have happened if we combined the community of More with Constant’s architecture? Perhaps it would have been a total failure, as it is like combining two opposite worlds that scream for way divergent paragons of life. Constant architecture was made to play, whereas iddleness was totally forbidden in More’s book.

 

An example of one of Constant's scale models for New Babylon

I can also imagine that some art tendencies would have been banned in Utopia. As they hide, as well, butcher houses because it stimulates human violence, they would have probably limited art to just beautifully looking things that appeal to “nice acts”.

But what More, with his deeply religious faith (which maybe nowadays would have been translated into a deep love for mankind) would have designed for nowadays? Aren’t we almost living in a utopia right now, isn’t Amsterdam some sort of bubble? How would he would have felt in our current capitalist world? He was not an artist but I believe he had a deep love and understanding for humanity. Which doesn’t take him that far from art..

 

The ignorant ‘Homo Ludens’ of the 21st century


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Last September, after visiting the exhibition about Constant Nieuwenhuys’s ‘New Babylon’ in The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, I delved into his work and ideas. I came a across a movie about Constant titled: City Rising by Metahaven. Intrigued by this contemporary view on Constant’s thoughts of society, I started to examine the thoughts of Metahaven on the web and especially found one of their latest works called The Sprawl (Propaganda about Propaganda), interesting. Having seen the exhibition and both the works from Metahaven, in my opinion the freedom of the individual is central in all three. Though the way the individual is presented by both Constant and Metahaven, especially in The Sprawl is entirely different. This led me to ask some questions:
Can we actually call ourselves free individuals with all the contemporary propaganda thrown at us? Should we act more towards Constant’s ideas? Is Metahaven pushing us into the right direction?
To explain my thoughts and to enlarge upon these questions, first I’d like to shortly introduce Constant’s ‘New Babylon’, Metahaven (City Rising) and The Sprawl and later on give insight to a correspondence between Metahaven and me.

New Babylon
‘New Babylon’ is the imagination of a progressive and modern utopian society by Constant Nieuwenhuys by means of maquettes, drawing, movies, graphics and manifests. In ‘New Babylon’ dynamics are crucial and where the inhabitants arrange their artificial environment. An automated community where labor is unnecessary whereby everyone can fully focus on developing their creative ideas. The individual decides how it’s habitat looks like without any restrictions or creative borders.

Metahaven
Metahaven is a Dutch design group based in Amsterdam founded by Daniel van Der Velden and Vinca Kruk. They’ve already had many exhibitions including the MOMA PS1 in New York and the Museum Of Modern Art in Warsaw. The group released several films and graphic designs focusing on contemporary political and social issues. For this instance City Rising (2014); a homage to Constant Nieuwenhuys’s ‘New Babylon’. The film is an exploration of the individuals’conditions of life, work, and love in neo-liberal times where the architectural maquettes of Constant’s ‘New Babylon’ are displayed in the video. This is a general example of what Metahaven deals with.

The Sprawl (Propaganda About Propaganda)
The Sprawl is a multi-channel video installation, feature-length film and episodic online documentary that considers the “ways in which fantasy can be designed so as to seem or feel like a truth”, as Daniel van der Velden describes and states that the Internet has become a disorganized geopolitical super weapon. Where, for example, funny cat videos distract us from urgent matters and that’s where The Sprawl jumps in by asking pressing questions about the internet in relation to our idea of the independent individual few others dare to ask. Looking at the design one can see that The Sprawl is a paranoid, digital trip in which the form and content keep on influencing each other in combination with futuristic beats and sounds by Kuedo, green screen-manipulations and glitch elements which deliver a chaotic and high pressuring image to the viewer.
All the different parts of The Sprawl, the so called “Shards”, can be found on the website sprawl.space; the interface of the project.

Fullscreen-capture-5272016-103924-AM

 

The Contemporary Individual
In both Constant’s ‘New Babylon’ and Metahaven’s The Sprawl, there is an interesting and different way how they approach and think of the individual. Constant claims –for his utopia to fully act well– that every individual should be able to free himself from daily routines such as labor, to become an adventurous, playful and dynamic human being, what he calls the ‘Homo Ludens’. So as a community, all individuals can create a new society where everything can be artificially influenced. Metahaven puts a question mark over the reliability of the internet and the information flows the individual engulfs. What is fantasy and what is real and objective? The internet makes extensive use of propaganda where the individual only gets the information certain people wants them to get. The Sprawl is trying to clarify this; that third parties and the internet form the individual by deciding which and what kind of information we can assume to be relevant. Metahaven tries to convince us we’re not that much of individuals at all, because of all the contemporary propaganda thrown at us.

In the correspondence between Metahaven and me, I asked them a question about The Sprawl to better understand the true meaning and purpose of the project.
My question: (Translated from Dutch) “How does Metahaven thinks to convince the individual by means of The Sprawl that the information we absorb in our daily life is manipulated; and in what way their chosen design contributes to this goal?”.
Unfortunately Metahaven didn’t want to answer the question based on the facts that they don’t speculate about their own made work not knowing what will be written about it and they don’t want to interpret their own work; they are of course fully entitled to do so.
However, they did send interesting references to articles which already conduce to better understanding The Sprawl. Troubled I couldn’t completely understand the project first;
from the article of Ruth Saxelby (see link below), it became clear this is actually a conscious choice of Metahaven:

-The Sprawl is less concerned with what “the truth” is, and more interested in the impact that the internet avalanche of conflicting truths has on the reality we experience, both individually and collectively.-

-The Sprawl’s tagline is “propaganda about propaganda,” and its third manifestation—dropped like breadcrumbs across YouTube—is the one that feels closest to the spirit of the project; its fragmentation is a reflection of the way we half-see, half-read, half-understand the world in these hyper-distracted times. But what does propaganda even mean today?-

“I used to think that propaganda was about persuading people. Jacques Ellul who wrote the classic study of propaganda in the 1960s, French philosopher, called it mass persuasion. He didn’t say propaganda was good or bad, he said it was a part of modern society, a part of technological society, a part of mass industrialized society, whether it’s getting people to wear condoms or to get them to become Maoists. Soviet propaganda used to be, ‘Believe in communism, Moscow is the shining beacon on the socialist hill.’”
“Now it doesn’t seem to be about that. It’s just about deconstructing the other side, disrupting Western narratives, of any sort. There’s a steady stream of disinformation whose purpose seems to be to sort of undermine the very idea that truth is provable.”—Peter Pomerantsev, The Sprawl

 

Metahaven Is Breaking The Propaganda Machine - The FADER-
Every individual has the right to create it’s own truth and what to believe. The internet gives us the idea we get equal choices and information flows, though this isn’t true. Big parties as multinationals, internet-companies and media-tycoons or even Metahaven, have a greater possibility to proclaim their “truth”. The individual is often not aware where certain information arises from.
To get back to Constant and Metahaven together. It indeed seems we, the many individuals, are trapped between many flows of information each claiming to proclaim the truth; while no one really knows what is the “truth” nor whether it exists, and far from being able to call ourselves “Homo Ludens”.

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Constant Nieuwenhuys,’Homo Ludens’, 1964. picto©Constant Foundation/SM

Who is Gherpe? About Superarchitecture and corruption by conventions


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Gherpe – a lamp designed by Superstudio
Gherpe
 (via:http://www.nova68.com/gherpelamp.html)

I think the Gherpe lamp is a relevant design because of several reasons. First of all, the lamp itself is made of materials that are still considered modern, even though it was designed more then forty years ago. That alone already shows how we still hang on to, or maybe are condemned to these materials nowadays. Next to that is the design, which references to the mathematics that appear in Nautilus shells. Then again the way this shape is interpreted is more like a cartoon of it, leaving the classical Nautilus image behind. This way of designing, letting interests and research – the designer was into marine biology – influence the work is something I think many designers work like, or would like to work like. Last reason why I think this is a relevant piece is because I think the whole of Superstudio, their designs and mainly their architecture is, because of their new views and extensive researches, relevant. They were part of a critical wave, commenting on Florence and it’s ancient heritage, on the years of full trust in technology and on architects before them. They wanted designers to be responsible for their creations when they design to make a better world. Their criticality on how design and architecture influences the life of other people and self-reflectiveness is what made them different from many before them. This idealism in theories, but with playfulness towards the designing process itself is to my opinion something important to keep relevant in art and design.

gherpe_01


(via:http://photografieundmehr.com/pics/2012-11/gherpe_01.jpg)

Nautilus-OS

Nautilus shell

(via: http://www.hungrywalrus.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Nautilus-POS.jpg)

To test it’s relevance I’ m trying to get to know what Gherpe is, what it is not and what it could be, what it means to Superstudio and what it means to me.

At a time where popular culture is stealing all the science and logic that Modernism employed to make this world better, with youngsters starting to call themselves Mod.’s, Pop Art commenting on this Modernist reality and society by reproducing imagery from that popular culture, Gherpe is born. It’s designed by Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, and adopted by Superstudio, the Italian architecture group where Toraldo is the most important member of, together with Adolfo Natalini, who is a Pop Art painter when they found the group in 1966.

 

big_374062_2176_giulia_superstudio3

Alessandro Magris, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, Piero Frassinelli, Roberto Magris, Adolfo Natalini
(via:http://www.domusweb.it/content/dam/domusweb/en/from-the-archive/2012/02/11/superstudio-projects-and-thoughts/big_374062_2176_giulia_superstudio3.jpg)

 

Where Modernism, in its affirmation of the human power to improve their environment the aid of practical experimentation and science, goes for logic, Gherpe pretty much mocks Modernism, by taking it’s science and it’s new materials to make something that is not in any way useful other than it’s aesthetical purpose. Gherpe is not practical, and it’s not helpful. But Gherpe’s cartoon like ambiguity looks fun, you want to have it, it looks smart even though it isn’t, and that’s exactly in line with popular culture of that day. Gherpes connection with nature is meaningless, but very important for it’s attractiveness. You could say it’s a beauty trick. The interest of Superstudio in nature combined with construction is to be traced back to one of their guides in the Academy of Architecture in Florence, which most members of Superstudio were attending. His name was Leonardo Savioli. As Adolfo Natalini says about Savioli: “Even when the drawings looked like traces of insects or explosions, galaxies, spiderwebs or wounds, they were always able to resemble parts of constructions or something constructable”.

 

Savioli_plateXVIII

Plate XVIII, a drawing by Savioli

(via:www.etsavega.net/dibex/Savioli_citta-e.htm)

 

The fact that Gherpe’s reference to nature doesn’t have any symbolism or engagement in it, already shows what things it really has to do with, things like freedom. Gherpe is free from the morals that come with modernism: Superstudio didn’t think architecture could change the world for the better. Gherpe is the joyous realization that the burden of creating something that will add to create paradise on earth is not possible.

Gherpe was in the Superarchitettura show. This was a show combining two groups. The Superstudio and Archizoom, both from Florence and mainly from the same architecture school. The show took place right after a flood had swallowed a chunk of Florence’s renaissance beauty, at a time where others mourned renaissance architectures birthplace the Superstudio show was a psychedelic experience work that purposely lacked engagement and put consumerism on a pedestal. Their ideal: morals were irrelevant to architecture, and so you should not aim to change the world with it either. So there is a different approach: “Superarchittettura accepts the logic of production and consumption, it utilizes it in an attempt at demystification” and  “Superarchitecture is the architecture of superproduction, of superconsumption, of superinduction of superconsumption, of the supermarket, of the superman, of the super gasoline”.

gherpe-archivio2

Toraldo and Gherpe, and Passiflora
(via:http://www.centrostudipoltronova.it/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/gherpe-archivio2.jpg)

Seeing Gherpe from the eye of the Superarchitecture that it is, means not that Gherpe was meant for a world better than ours, but for the world as it was in 1967, where consumption and production were exploding. You could say, Gherpe is super itself. A lamp fitting for all these phenomena that felt relevant for the younger generation at this time. Instead of denying these phenomena, or wanting to change them, Superstudio designed something that fit in. It might even accelerate superconsumption, be meant for that purpose. In this perspective Gherpe is in a way a neo-futuristic piece, a monument for the speed and mass of its time. You could also see Gherpe as an, perhaps slightly melancholic, attempt at creating something, something touchable and real out of all the superlatives that together form the ungraspable frightening dystopia that was (and is) everyday life. And maybe that this is the reason we enjoy it, because Gherpe is then our comfort, a sign that from superproduction and superconsumption something appreciable can materialize.

superarchitettura-3

Image of Superarchittettura show
(via:http://www.stylepark.com/en/news/a-landscape-of-mountains-and-valleys-the-design-parade-03-in-hyeres/283330)

Gherpe shows Superstudio’s double nature: it’s serious, socially critical but can also be ironic.  When Superstudio presents an utopian, or dystopian design we can never accept it at face value. When they design a utopia, they explore every possibility into the extreme, and so exploration of the architecture itself is it’s aim. Instead of presenting the possible solutions it tells the stories of the decisions of mankind, the ones it made and might make. A very serious and melancholic subject, reflecting their serious opinions (Adolfo Natalini: “the race of consumerism is definitely wrong”) but enabling playful and smart experimentations.

As Gherpe is an early Superstudio piece, Gherpe is also an early exploration which, as we can see in the Stedelijk, ended in a lamp. As Superstudio kept exploring their ideas became more and more critical of architecture and design, which made their projects end up way less often in actual designs and realizable architecture. Instead they expressed their ideas in movies, models and collages.

According to Superstudio architecture was corrupted to such an extent that even the avant-garde architect was guilty of suppressing human development, since he made use of existing conventions in architecture. An interesting idea, which suggests human development can come from no other place than out of the blue. Where one can ask the question what human development actually is, but let’s get back to Superstudio. They saw reason as the only quality that’s uncorrupted by these conventions. This makes it’s easy to see why they step farther away from architecture and design, as they are easily seen as complete and valid evidence of manifestos or ideas, rather than generally questioning and alienating. That doesn’t mean Superstudio didn’t make anything at all anymore, as you might expect.

Instead they found ways to visualize what architecture could be, without designing from conventions. Something that wasn’t really architecture. For the exhibition “ Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”  in the MOMA Superstudio made an 8 x 8 black square on the floor, and made it repeat itself in an endless grid by placing mirrors at the walls. They put a box with wires on each corner, making the plugs recur regularly in this “landscape” [x]. It wasn’t the first time they worked with this black grid [x], but it was the first time architecture and design was so completely dismissed that it was actually left out at all. Even though this seems like the ultimate conclusion, there’s more to the ever expanding black grid. In the Continuous Monument, a glass grid-like structure that spans all over the world, visualized in absurd collages [x] where it embraces Manhattan or faces the Taj Mahal, the irony, social critic and dystopia remains: a homogenous unrealizable blank space, but also a space where we can project our own ideas on of what it really is. Our ideas, full of conventions and corruption.

521d003de8e44effd40000a8_environments-and-counter-environments-italy-the-new-domestic-landscape-moma-1972-exhibition_5-528x362

Grid in the Moma: View of Supersurface: An Alternate Model of Life on Earth, by Superstudio, in Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, MoMA, 1972. Photo: Copyright Cristiano Toraldo di Francia.

(via: http://www.archdaily.com/421040/environments-and-counter-environments-italy-the-new-domestic-landscape-moma-1972-exhibition/)

As you understand now, Gherpe too is a piece of corruption. A mash up of conventions and brainwashing, which will, as you look at it, only corrupt and brainwash you more. Which is very true in the sense that, the more you know, the more you are stuck in the things that already are. Whether that really suppresses the development of humanity is questionable. I personally am less negative about the influences of the past and the conventions we get taught. But the fact that Superstudio deals so productively with their frustrations over a system is something everyone, defenitely every art student, can be inspired by.

Over thinking and commenting on how design works is something I find fundamentally important, as I think this self reflection is what can bring us to new insights. Insights that can be reflected on again later, a continuous process I’d say would be human development rather than corruption. But, if you are reading this, and you do happen to find yourself having been corrupted by looking at Gherpe and reading about it, then at least we can be sure about it’s relevance for the (design) world today.

 

2701091233096716superstudio_monument_1_kl

The Continuous Monument, one of the many collages.

(via: http://www.spaceinvading.com/bookmarklet/Images/2701091233096716superstudio_monument_1_kl.jpg)


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