A Saturday morning about eight-nine years ago I was struck by the front page of the FT Week-end, boasting a nine-column title – We’ve got UTOPIA and it sucks! – next to it, standing tall over the full page was an illustration of an obese youth wearing a hooded jumper, loose pants, sneakers with no laces and a back-to-front cap. The boy looked disconcerted at the gigantic sandwich before his eyes, towering stuffed with piled with TV, computers, cell-phones, cars, motorcycles, sunglasses, cowboy-boots, erotic dolls, aqua-scooters, headphones, Hi-Fi sets, etc. The aggressiveness of the image, such boldness of language, was shockingly in the columns of finance paper major in the consumer’s culture (its irresistible magazine – oh so decadently – called How to spend it…).
We live in the age of the double, the reproduction, the clone, framed in a trap, anxious when we can’t compulsively replicate copies of passwords, codes – innumerable – bank-online accesses and electronic ID, social security numbers and insurances, not to mention the entrance door and the garage ramp, computer username, the detestable pins of cell-phone and credit card and all “customer codes” for any purchase contemporary world imposes encircling our lives. As if…, losing a password, one would be erased from a portion of one’s own existence in this world… Weren’t the gate’s keys and the original version of life already frail and complex enough? This low-cost world, free-for-you-to-scroll (provided you have the necessary pins), this cell-like secured aseptic “areas” we live in, x-ray scanned when entering a museum, video-recorded as soon we cross the door of our drugstore, and the most unaware constantly geo-localized strolling over the footpath, where we are told, nobody (is supposed to) be lonely, get sick, to be poor, age or die, is Utopia. Oὺ τόπος – (Greek), in a non place. A word – “imaginary” – referred to a visionary condition of reform and idealized existence in “some place” – topos – inexistent under seemingly perfect conditions. A place therefore to be imagined and to be created. Its inexistence and impossibility to exist tend to turn to failure its idealistic attempts to be – Dystopia. The example I provided is the nearest, the biggest, the subtlest one, but there are several other eloquent examples of utopias all around us: zoos, amusement parks, dams, circuses, natural history museums, correctional institutions, enclaves, refugee camps, cities… Utopias therefore – all referred to visible concepts of space/s. The idea of utopia may also be approached from more abstract, metaphorical points of view. To venture a perilous parallel, I dare say in paradox we could compare the image of Utopia of which the substance in space, to the image of Eternity, of which the substance is Time. The latter one enjoys on the contrary a better general good perception…, perhaps on accounts of its un-verifiability. A Time whereas nothing becomes, transform nor change, where everything stays motionlessly, ever since and for ever same and equal to itself.
We leave you a dictionary toolbox of meanings and the precious reference guide for you to discover, invent, or reveal your vision of UTOPIA.
From The New Shorter Oxford 1993
noun , Also U- [mod.L = no-place (f. Gk ou not + topos place), title of a book by Sir Thomas More (1277-1535).]
1) a- An imaginary or hypothetical place or state of things considered to be perfect; a condition of ideal (esp. social) perfection; b- An imaginary distant region or country. Now rare and obs.
2) An impossibly ideal scheme, esp. for social improvement.
G. B. Shaw: In the imagination…England is a Utopia in which everything and everybody is “free”.
L. Starke: A first tiny, faltering step on the road to our Green utopia.
Utopiast: n. (rare)= UTOPIAN n.
a. & n., Also U- [mod.L Utopianus, f.as prec.: see –AN]
1) Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a Utopia; advocating or constituting an ideally perfect state; impossibly ideal, visionary, idealistic.
2) (obs.) Having no known location, existing nowhere. rare
Courier-Mail: (Brisbane): If God’s laws were followed, we would have an Utopian world.
C. Brayfield: Your theory is jus a Utopian daydream.
1) A Native or inhabitant of a Utopia.
2) A conceiver or advocate of Utopian schemes; an idealistic social reformer, a visionary.
Utopianism: n. (obs.) a- a Utopian idea or condition; b- Utopian thought, beliefs, or aims;
Utopianist n. = Utopist n. = UTOPIAN n.
Utopianize v. a- v.t. make Utopian, form a Utopia out of; b- v.i. conceive Utopian schemes;
utopic a. (rare) = utopical a. (rare) = UTOPIAN a.
Utopism n. = UTOPIANISM (b).
FICTION, LITERARY, SPECULATIVE AND POLITICAL APPROACHES
Italo Calvino, The Invisible Cities
Jorge Louis Borges, The Immortal (collection The Aleph); Babel’s Library and The Lottery of Babylonia (collection Fictions ) ; Utopia of a Tired Man (collection The Book of Sand)
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
Gustave Flaubert, Salammbô
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
Jack London, The Iron Heel
Edwin Abbott Abbott, Flatland
Marco Polo, Il Milione
Samuel Butler, Erewon
Aleksandr Solzjenitsyn, The Gulag Achipelago
PHILOSOPHICAL, PHILOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL APPROACHES
Sir Thomas More, De optimo reipublicae statu deque nova insula Utopia (1516)
Tommaso Campanella, La Città del Sole (1602)
Francis Bacon, New Atlantis (1627)
Lewis Mumford, The Story of Utopias
A Trip to the Moon, George Méliès (1902)
Metropolis, Fritz Lang (1927)
Lost Horizon, Frank Capra (1937)
Brigadoon, Vincente Minnelli (1954)
Fahrenheit 451, François Truffaut (1966)
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Mel Stuart (1971)
The Blue Lagoon, Randal Kleiser (1980)
Brazil, Terry Gilliam (1985)
The Mosquito, Coast Peter Weir (1986)
Pleasantville, Gary Ross (1998)
The Truman Show, Peter Weir (1998
Matrix, Larry & Handy Wachowski (1999)
The Beach, Danny Boyle (2000)
The Village, M. Night Shyamalan (2004).
Some reflexions of theoretical order By Gabriel Bauret
- The Greek etymology evokes a place (topos) but the prefix “u” denies the existence of such place. We must therefore locate the concept at the opposite of topographical inventory reference generally associated to documentary photography’s tradition. Utopias are invented places, product of the imagination. There’s no utopia without an intellectual or artistic activity (the work of writers, architects, artists, cinematographers etc.)
- It is about an imaginary, virtual place – a gap – if compared to the real world.
- Yet Utopia cannot uniquely be summed up as an invented world or a dream: in most it is in facts the carrier of an ideal, of a different order, altogether of another system ruling the presences inhabiting the place.
- So utopia is « better » is « more »! A world where women and men would be free, equal and peaceful, cultivated, in-love thus inhabiting a perfect world…
A world where all Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ articles would be all scrupulously applied. Since Plato’s Republic, the politician, the ecologist, the economist are all engaged to produce some utopia, thinking of better worlds beyond possible. To create utopias is also a way to make thought and research progress
In a work entitled « Sade, Fourier, Loyola », Roland Barthes regroups three writers that, within three different fields, have produced utopias and to describe each of them had invented some specific language.
- Utopia may also be characterized by an individualistic attitude : a denial of society : Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Human is good, it is society to corrupt him/her) Jean-Paul Sartre (Hell, is « the others ). Paradoxes: By definition tightly inherent to the light of real world, may photography produce utopias? Photography can exist necessarily because of some “presence” In front of the camera, nonetheless certain photographers took distance from this vision of the real world to set up other worlds, according to an ideal, where harmony and happiness reign together with the overcoming of the self. Hence photography may as well detach (crop and fix) some elements of the real world and create its own ideal world.
Transcription of the Lecture on UTOPIA
By Jean-Luc Monterosso
The word is a neologism by the English writer Thomas More during the Tudor dynasty in the 16th century. Formed by two Greek words: one means place the other is a negation, the final significance is one of an inexistent“ ideal” – place of happiness. Such place is one that could, or could not, be in real world. Utopia is the representation of an ideal dimension simultaneously encompassing a positive and a negative sense. There are two possibilities: it might already exists, we can try find it, or, it couldn’t possibly exist. In its first significance the word is characterized as imaginary political ideal – see Plato’s evocation of and ideal Republic. Another examples, the philosopher Charles Fourier or (even) Karl Marx. You may identify more examples of Utopias in modern and contemporary architecture. In Marseille for instance la Cité Radieuse of Le Corbusier: he tries to alter the social relation between the people inside the very structures of buildings and “ideally” create better conditions in the relation of people with themselves. For Oscar Niemeyer the target in the conception of Brasilia realization’s project, is an ideal of an inexistent city in Brazil. Paradoxically he thought about Photography, which for many means “to capture reality” when instead Utopia isn’t reality. Nonetheless you as photographers may conceive and create photographic Utopias… Interesting examples are 19th century Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits, idyllic portraits of old women and men…, also exemplary is the’30s and ’50s portraiture tradition of Hollywood stars, where photographers literally create in every sense the “image” of the star to such an extent that even the film-maker reproduce that same light to embellish and valorize them. The fabrication of the idealistic perfect image of cinema actors and actresses, thence (and today photoshop similar alteration and corrections) are other utopias.
During the ‘80s a current of photographers begins to invent imaginary settings in photography- making: from this group I would like to present here the work of three of them: Bernard Faucon; Joan Fontcuberta and the contemporary artist, Alain Bublex. Bernard Faucon create pure imaginary constructions, fictions of a world about childhood. A world that does not exist of course and that BF creates in its every aspects: the dressings, the colors, the general atmosphere etc. He tries to conceive a dreaming world of childhood, that we could compare to the one of Marcel Proust in his magnification of memory. For instance like children’s imagination constantly invents its own world, BF too evokes some other world. A persistently recurring element is the use of fire, of which he controls the visual effect although there’s no actual burning. Collaterally in his color palette he applies a particular process, somewhat like in painting with pastels. Such process generates a sort of visual distance similar to the one of memory. He invents and actually makes the room’s spaces itself: a space made of ice cubes, made with gold, spaces like in the children’s’ dreams. His work – eminently different – is not to be compared to the one of Larry Clark’s strongly hard-core photographs of teenagers (see Ken Park censured film).
The second artist I wish to introduce is photographer Joan Fontcuberta and his utopian invention of worlds and stories. An example of one of his bodies of work, echoing the one of beginning of the XXth century Karl Blossfeldt, encompasses an Herbarium with flowers and plants including a vast array of collateral imaginary scientific descriptions and corollaries of drawings and notes in the utmost imaginable precision, all perfectly “fake”. At a careful glance one realizes that those aren’t exactly the images of real flowers and are instead composed by several improbable other materials achieving the most unimaginable degree of credibility – all this is meant uniquely to consolidate the illusion of a scientifically proved (!) reality of an herbarium that doesn’t exist. Other example: JF tells the story of a scientist who discovers some unknown species of animals, these too are imaginary, inexistent animals, the fact of course contemplates the entire account of the great (imaginary ) historical discovery. Another key FC plays is the one of “Landscapes”. Once again it is the transfiguration of if it, that would allow the possibility of some impossible landscape. As a photographer and as an artist, JF give shape to his ideas materializing them into the form of photography. One last example about JF is whereas he himself embodies the imaginary “real story” of a Russian cosmonaut (Sputnik: Odyssey of the Soyuz II).
Presenting the last of those three artists one more example is the imaginary city of Glooscap by Alain Bublex. His city is supposed to be somewhere in Canada, therefore it “exists” photographs of the town, photographs of the town’s Mayor, then of course there are city’s plans, the old map, the new map, even the possible travel connection between Paris and Glooscap, and eventually one may consider to buy a flat in Glooscap… Utopias in general are models proposing an alteration of reality or models to understand the reality. As photographers you have two possible approaches: the reality of an utopia or the utopia of a reality… Urban planners during the city’s conception create utopias, in fact urbanism – as such – does “not exist”, it is an action imagining the creation of some ideal world. You may imagine to invent the world of your dream, or may construct another reality with the Utopia. The amazing thing is, that is precisely Utopia in this sense Novartis Campus is a peculiar example of utopian city within the city.