Art as a Strategy for Living with Utopias in Ruins

Jennifer Ann Southern, Emma Elizabeth Rose, Linda O'Keeffe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

The term ‘utopia’ is problematic. Originating in the Greek for ‘no place’ or ‘good place’ it suggests an ideal that can only be imagined. To imagine utopias could be seen as an unrealistic orientation to a future in which the local impacts of global change will be severe. However, utopian thinking also includes the pursuit of a transformation, it is about how we might strive towards a better future and find strategies for living with dystopic situations. Anthropologist Anna Tsing suggests that we need imagination to grasp the precariousness and unpredictability of contemporary life. She does this through both a metaphorical use of the Matsuke mushroom to imagine the possibility of life in a ruined landscape, and through detailed observations of the lives of mushroom pickers surviving economically in the ruins of capitalism. This parallel practice of imagination and observation also characterises the works in the Mobile Utopia exhibition. Through the works we see utopian plans and ideas come up against the frictions of physical place; where ideas are not only imagined, but attempted, enacted and grappled with. Although all the art works are distinctly mobile, they are grounded by the frictions that the artists unearth, enact and perform through investigations of situated and spatial practices. We suggest that the processes and journeys that produced the art works can be thought of as strategies for living and making meaning in the ruins of capitalism.We have grouped the works into three themes: an exploration of infrastructures that enable particular kinds of mobilities; the negotiation of identity on the move and in relation to changing geographies; and the questioning of veracity of or within distributed, networked and mediated mobilities. The themes often overlap within the works as the artists navigate between material geographies, mobile lives and distributed networks. The works are not propositions for the future, they are all explicitly grounded in the way that past, present and future are entangled in a complex relation to each other and to the frictions of location. While reminding us of past ideas of utopian planning they also offer new ways to make critical observations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication13 Art Works, 12 Experiments in Mobile Utopias
EditorsJen Southern, Emma Rose, Linda O'Keeffe, Monica Buscher
PublisherLancaster and Sheffield University
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)9781862203396
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2017
EventMobile Utopia: Pasts, Presents, Futures - , United Kingdom
Duration: 2 Nov 20175 Nov 2017


ConferenceMobile Utopia: Pasts, Presents, Futures
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • mobilities
  • utopia
  • art


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