At the Spirit of Utopia exhibition, I was half an hour late to meet my friend whose phone had recently broken. With no way of contacting her, I asked all of the gallery attendants if they had seen a girl with short dark curly hair. They mostly looked at me suspiciously since I also have short dark curly hair, and most of the gallery attendants are artists, probably expecting performance art trickery. Yes, they had seen me with my hair, but not my friend. I was left to enjoy the exhibition alone.
I love the concepts of Utopia and Dystopia. I love hearing other people’s visions of what their Utopias and Dystopias would be. It’s very revealing about our values, hopes, ambitions, and ideals. Utopian visions are a good starting point for working out what to do about the status quo. So, I was really looking forward to this exhibition. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite hit the spot for me. There was some interesting work, but it wasn’t utopian enough for me.
These are images of my experiment in the Sanatorium, a work by Pedro Reyes. A series of spaces and a group of ‘therapists’ implement ‘therapies‘ on the audience members. I first tried ‘Mudras’, where a ‘therapist’ got us to do some breathing exercises and make hand gestures. It was relaxing and almost felt like satire on yoga – but without quite being funny.
Then I signed up for ‘The Museum of Hypothetical Lifetimes’. A two-hour wait later, and I was shown into a room with an odd white structure on a table and an assortment of small objects. Different parts of the table represented different compartments of your life, from childhood and relationships, to ambitions for work, and ideas about how we will die. I was left for an hour to arrange the objects on the table to represent how I felt about each of these life areas.
You know me, I really got into it, and filled up the table. These therapy rooms really worked as art – bringing experiential art to people who might not have been exposed to it before. I liked this one and it fitted into the Utopia theme.
Peter Liversidge had a great idea – to make a series of proposals to the curators, published as a book and also displayed on a wall. He then carried out these proposals. There were free posters to take away, which were reprints of some posters from the early days of the Whitechapel Gallery saying ‘Please give something towards the expenses of the Picture Show’. I have one of the 24. I believe he also proposed to give out free wine, to demolish buildings opposite the gallery.
I love the concept of proposing events and spectacles. However – it fits uncomfortably with the utopia concept. The ideas are not really utopian enough. It was as if the curators asked several artists they liked who had not done work about utopia, and asked them to make work about the concept. They simply didn’t fit in.
Another of these artists was Yto Barrada. Again, interesting work. Just, not really about utopia. Whitechapel Gallery says:
French-Moroccan artist Yto Barrada’s installation asserts individual narratives within historic structures of colonial power. Just as early twentieth century avant-garde artists deployed graphics and cinema as aesthetic activism, Barrada’s Say Don’t Say posters use terms which subversively react to bureaucratic demands. Scale-model cinemas evoke her cinema club in Rif, where the rich heritage of Arab film can be viewed and discussed.
How is this at all utopian? Maybe it’s something I’m missing, but it seems a bit tenuous. Why wasn’t every artwork a utopian vision, or at least a fragment of one?
Overall, I would say that this exhibition is worth a visit, but don’t go expecting to be stimulated about utopian concepts. If only the show had a different title.