Issue #42, 2012
Scene

How To Practice The Envisioning Of Real Utopias?
Nataša Antulov

Before making an overview on this year’s event Mine, yours, ours, I will begin with a short introduction to the practice of the organization Drugo more (The Other Sea) since the very institutional nature of the organization and its function in the sphere of the wider community is a model example of a practical utopia as well as an example of what we can consider to be a good design of institutions.

Drugo more is a non-profit organization that engages in “the production, promotion, research, education and dissemination of information in the field of culture“1 and is an important segment of the local community. They seek to empower the local community by developing platforms that contribute to the development of the independent cultural sector. In Croatian and regional context, Drugo more is working on the decentralization of knowledge production as well as the production and promotion of cultural events and practices, which is extremely important to the vitality of the cultural policy of the local community, as well as those at the international level. During the last few years, Drugo more has initiated projects like Balkan contemporary,Educational Nucleuscycle, the Summer School and many others. Mine, yours, ours is a project initiated in 2006 which has addressed thus far the topics of ownership, transitions, consumerism, solidarity, resistance, work, and practical utopias in the most recent edition. Drugo more describes Mine, yours, ours as “a complex interdisciplinary project that culminates in a several-day event that brings together theoreticians, artists and activists“.2
This year’s Mine, yours, ours deals with the concept of practical utopia and tries to create a training ground for thinking about a different organization of the social system and alternative social relations. In doing so, the concept of utopia is not approached as a non-place where it would be possible to create an idyll, but as a place where actual transformations are taking place, not only at the level of the basic structure of society, as it would be the case of a very broad political structure, but also at the level of more limited social practices that do not change the system entirely, but contribute to its transformation.

Davor Miškovic’ (one of the founders of Drugo more) highlights in the festival program booklet Emma Goldman’s statement that she doesn’t want to take a part in a revolution in which she cannot dance. Not only that we can understand that as a “need to preserve the common good that we have built“3, as Miškovic’ points it out, but we also must not forget and underestimate (in this revolutionary envisioning) the specific knowledge that we find in the field of cultural production.

Before we take a look on the festival program, I will try to propose a theoretical framework for the concept of practical utopia. In the book Envisioning Real Utopias4, Erik Olin Wright discusses the concept of realistic utopia as a contradictory construct, necessary in order to acquire a better understanding of the socio-political model that would serve as an alternative to the current one. So what the term realistic utopia primarily communicates is a necessity to move from the political world as we see it5, rather than to fantasize about the peace and harmony that will somehow be created in a better world. Therefore, we need to negotiate between a vision and real socio-political structures. As an effort towards utopian visions, Wright’s analyses are attempts to go beyond the mere criticism of the current state, bringing forth the methodological and conceptual framework necessary to conceive possible alternatives. In this sense, Wright sees realistic utopianism as a core component of emancipatory social science, needed for acquiring the social knowledge relevant to the collective project of eliminating different forms of human oppression. In his analysis, Wright exemplifies concept of real utopia with practices like participatory budgeting, Wikipedia, public libraries, worker-owned cooperatives, urban agriculture with community land trust, etc.

But in order to be able to talk about a more comprehensive ideal of real utopia, it is first necessary to establish the diagnosis and critique, or as Davor Miškovic’ emphasizes: “In order to find out what is the desired point we first need to know where we stand presently.“6 Diagnosis and criticism are based on the concept of social justice, that is to say, on placing certain ethical requirements already in the design of institutions. In Erik Olin Wright’s case, a conception of social justice is closely linked with a radically egalitarian democratic understanding of justice.

Thus, the concept of practical utopia or real utopia can be integrated in a scientific method whose goal is confronting the social anomalies generated by capitalism. Now, how are arts dealing with the challenge of utopian thinking? Artistic works are traditionally expected to either focus on the representation of a perfect place, where utopia is a sort of a rosy vision of love and prosperity, or to represent dystopia as a warning that things may or will end up even worse than expected. Artistic work tends to remind us about importance of rețecting about various options of organizing a less dystrophic world.

The opening performance “Is there life on stage?“ presented by Zagreb-based collaborative performance collective BADco. was a great example of how art can produce a set of perspectives on socio-political topics like practical utopia in a different way to other social practice. BADco. is an artistic collective consisting offour choreographers/dancers, two playwriters, a philosopher and a production manager. The hierarchy in BADco. is very țexible and varies from project to project, substantially different than in the case of other theater productions, and the heterogeneity of the group is rețected in the decision-making process of creation. As an art institution, BADco.’s spectrum of activity does not stop at the level of art production, being directed to broader civic engagement. BADco.’s members are active in publishing, organizing public workshops, forums, conferences and in various civil actions and the public discourse in general. As for BADco.’s poetics, it basically focuses on researching the protocols of performing, presenting and observing, in relation to various sets of problems arising from the rețection on theoretical concepts such as object-oriented ontology, and from relating to disciplines such as critical theory, film studies etc. Their complex compositional and dramaturgical procedures are challenging the interpretative apparatus of the spectators, not as much by asking and proposing what something is, or what something means, but by anticipating the question of how something works.

BADco. announced their performance as an act of terraforming, defined as “a hypothetical process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of a planet, moon or other body to be similar to those of Earth in order to make it habitable for terrestrial organisms“.7 The actual performative and dramaturgical task was named an “exercise in reshaping the Earth“.8 Under this framework were designed a set of performative actions that problematize the act of “establishing new conditions for life and work on stage, networks of relations, ecosystems, forms
of life, communities“.9

BADco. also addressed the trend of so called “documentary theatre“ and its assumptions about how “real people“ and real (true?) factography creates a new kind of theatrical realness, especially by producing a new kind of engaged theatre. Rețecting on the status of the real in theatre, BADco. highlights the fact that all staged relations are inevitably fictionalized. Maybe the best way to describe BADco.’s approach to practical utopia would be a Nils Norman quote: “utopia is an analytical tool which enables us to look at a space and critically reveal what is not there.“10 By exploring the modes of representation in theatrical frame and its fictional conventions, BADco. offers instruments for analyzing the formative mechanisms of the outside world in a way that confronts the practice of using realism in representations of the outside world on the fictional stage. BADco.’s performance proved to be an interesting challenge for the conceptual frame of this year’s Mine, yours, ours,especially in relation to the recent trend in curatorial programs and the art scene of being increasingly concerned with the question of utopianism, as a way of thinking the unthinkable in late capitalism. Theorists, critics, and curators have brought into discussion different ways of performing utopia in art forms, but, at the same time, the application of a theoretical trend in curatorial practice often results in the mere spectacularisation of the subject.

In the exhibition program, Mine, yours, ours offered the projectFrom Below, as a Neighbour.The exhibition constituted the latest chapter from an ongoing exploration of utopian practice which started from the congress “Summit of Micronations“, held in Helsinki in 2003. The exhibition includes a site-specific installation by BADco., an Armin Maiwald film released as part of his long-running series “Bibliothek der Sachgeschichten“ (Library of Factual Stories(, a factual story of the roller coaster – narrated trough the journey of two boys, a surreal trip speaking of possible transcendence whilst remaining in the same place. There was also Öyvind Fahlström’s choreographed street parade, Mao-Hope March,as well as Kajsa Dahlberg’s exploration of the potential of representational invisibility in the video Female Fist. The video is an interview with an activist from the Copenhagen queer milieu, filmed with the lens-cap left on the camera. Activist talks about an initiative to film a lesbian porn movie as well as to participate in it, and to see how it could rețect on the dominant perspectival givens. The video is a nice example of interesting manipulation of showing the invisible or the unseen. Since the film opens and concludes with a long scene from a big public square in Copenhagen it seems like the artist is discussing
different modes of representing private and public fictions.

Also included is visual poetry and collages by Babi Badalov,
We Who Feel Differently;a series of prints by Carlos Motta; Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore. Accompanying the exhibition there was also a cinema screening of Jennie Livingston’s cult documentary film Paris is burning which is an insight into the drag scene, that is a Harlem subculture of gay Latino and Black man. Film shows the performers attending elaborate balls, dressed in extravagantly detailed outfits and makeup. Contestants “walk“ (like models runway) in categories based on their shared fantasies and desires including the category of the “realness“ – the ability to perform a normative, white, heterosexual, male, high class identity. Livingston’s film is definitely an example of how a marginalized subculture and practice can over time become one of the dominant ones and how this practices can change their own paradigm as they move from invention to convention.

The closing event of the festival was the YKON game, a site-specific game designed by artist collective YKON. The project aims to create a situation in which participants share their knowledge about existing utopian concepts that have a transformative effect on society. Inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s “World Game“, initially developed in the early 1960s as a subversion of military “War Games“, the concept of the game proposes an alternative system of pedagogy. In the festival program, the YKON game was the most “practical“ event in the sense of a rețection of what practical utopia is and what it could be in a wider political context. Most importantly, the game engages its participants to think about the formative mechanisms of envisioning a more equitable society.

What I would like to emphasize at the end of this experience is the importance of the work of envisioning and fantasizing, of using art as an epistemological tool, especially when focusing on the imaginative procedures that lead to an idyllic image. When it comes to envisioning the practical utopia, maybe it is far more interesting to see how art fantasizes rather than what this fantasy is.

Notes

 1.http://www.drugo-more.hr/wordpress/about/

 2.‑http://www.drugo-more.hr/wordpress/category/mojetvojenasefestival/ mojetvojenasefestival2012/

 3.‑Ibid.

 4.‑Erik Olin Wright, “Envisioning Real Utopias“,lecture given at the Political Sciences Department, Zagreb, 2011.

 5.‑John Rawls, The Law of People, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 83.

 6.‑http://www.drugo-more.hr/wordpress/category/                                 mojetvojenasefestival/mojetvojenasefestival2012/

 7.http://badco.hr/badco/

 8.‑Ibid.

 9.‑Ibid.

10.http://nomadicutopianism.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/art-and-utopia/