Written by Jean-René Leblanc
“We announce the birth of a conceptual country: Newtopia. Citizenship of the country can be obtained by declaration of your awareness of Newtopia. Newtopia has no land, no boundaries, no passports - only people. Newtopia has no laws other than cosmic. All people of Newtopia are ambassadors of the country. As two ambassadors of Newtopia, we ask for diplomatic immunity and recognition in the United Nations for our country and its people”.
From the perpetual motion machine to Habitats in cyberspace, nearly five centuries of utopian paradigms have played an active role in the development of Western thought, exemplifying the belief in providing a model of social and economic perfection. “Michel Foucault refers to utopia and heterotopia as peculiar spaces that at once relates and contradicts with other sites, and also, as "Other spaces" that deviate from the everyday”. It is in this spirit that each body of work presented in Salvaging Utopia opens a dialogue on the fluidity of intersections between the private, the public, the restricted and the imaginary as representations of contemporary utopias.
THREE DISCURSIVE UTOPIAN SPACES
In Lisa Benschop’s, installation, ...yore, the predominant green avocado color, the scale and the carefully placed composition all work to aesthetically link the objects. Such an axiomatic relation offers the viewer a space for reflection and/or contemplation on such issues as gender roles and consumption in both post and cold war eras. In Untitled (signs) (2006), the three framed, ornamented tapestries with the handwritten green texts: “please do not touch the display”, “seriously” and “please stay out” seem to destabilize any fixed reading of the hierarchic nature of the institutionalization of art object into “high and low art”. By playing with such conventions Benschop is carefully constructing an ambivalent relation to the utopian institution of Art.
Just add Water by Sarah Jane Gorlitz and Wojciech Olejnik explores the hybrid nature of constructing Reality and Truth. Like illusionists, they take us on a poetic visual and sonic voyage into a ‘non-space’, symbolically represented by an underground subway station. The flickering lights of the slowly flooding space confront the spectator with erratic stop-motion images. “With each passing frame the medium of stop-motion brings attention to its own being, to its own form, away from the measure of time, away from its jurisdiction”.
Inspired by cyberspace and the pragmatic domestic architecture of the seventies, Stéphane Gilot’s installations address the notions of perception and reality. More precisely, they explore the ways in which we live vicariously through our constructed illusions, “therefore [becoming] a hybrid, paradoxical space where the lack of privacy intermingles with freedom, detention and utopia”.
By placing the spectator in front of a series of poetic contradictions, each body of work engages the viewer toward a self-introspection on the complexities between perceptions and the communication of one’s own values and desires.
Jean-René Leblanc Ph.D. is an artist and professor of Digital Arts at the University of Calgary.
1 John & Yoko, in a press conference concerning their deportation trial with the American government
2 Hasegawa, Y. (2003) Heterotopias (Other Spaces), (page consulted on June 15, 2007) http://www.jpf.go.jp/venezia-biennale/art/e/50/02.html 3 Gorlitz, S-J., Olejnik, W. (2007) Just add water.
4 Duguet, A-M. (2006) World 2, Berlin Transmediale.
5 Gilot, S. (2001-2003) Escape Plans number 3, Montréal, the Pavillion for Sensorial Reorganisation.