Nova Utopia, 2013
Archival inkjet and screen print on paper, 133.5 x 171.5 cm. Edition of 50
NOVA UTOPIA 2010-2014 – STEPHEN WALTER
This is about an enduring human desire to create order and unity in the world, and the imagining of a perfect place and a society where justice prevails for all.
Utopian notions have existed in our minds for thousands of years. When Thomas More first wrote ‘Utopia’ in 1516 and coined the term, it was a play on the Greek Latin words eu-topos – meaning ‘good place’ and ou-topos – meaning ‘no place’. Here, at the very centre of More’s concept laid a question and a half-truth. It leads to ambivalence towards the idea of a Utopia being a one defining work. So, where are they to be found today? What would they look like? How many Utopias would there have to be if we could all decide?
On the dark side – we have been shown what leads on from the worst types of grand projects instigated on a nationalist level. The last hundred years in Europe have left behind monoliths such as those found on the parade grounds at Nuremburg which now lie as testament to mass hubris and alienation. The main problem with large scale Utopias is they inevitably result in the eradication of people that do not fit into the plan – something today that we would like to think is simply unacceptable. On the bright side we can see how Germany has transformed itself, how social security has developed in the west, and how institutions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be examples of vast bureaucracies being forces for the good.
When Robert Hughes said ‘it seems like plants, we do need the shit of others for nutriments in order to thrive’ he was reacting to the clean-slate policy of the city plan of Brasilia and other such Corbusian models for life. Such environments when built in reality end up being soul-less shells. Perhaps it is the old places and cities with their multiple layers of history and cultural residues that are the places that enrich our lives the most, and we like living in them. So, if the broad sweep eraser is now ‘out’ – is it on a smaller scale, in local hubs where we should now be looking? Or, should we recede even further back into ourselves in order to find Utopia? Surely, if they are to work in reality, we must find ours in a place that sits close to other people’s Utopia and somewhere within the balance between what is ‘imagined’ and what is ‘practical’. Large Utopias must surely be ones of compromise between the will of the ‘people’ and that of the ‘individual’ – perhaps a re-mixing, re-appropriating and a re-purposing of what has come before.
In Thomas Mores foundational text he describes the customs of an Island race through a third person – Raphael Hythlodæus, (latterly renamed Raphael Nonsenso). In part 1 of the book at the port of Antwerp, More himself is introduced to this worldly man who had previously escaped from the power structures of the European courts and discovered Utopia. In its second part, Nonsenso becomes Mores conduit or filter through which his imaginings are shaped. He goes on to chronicle how life on the island of Utopia worked, somewhere in a nondescript part of the New World from which he had just returned.
a star that unexpectedly becomes very bright and then returns to its normal brightness over a period of months or years – Macmillan Dictionary 2012
My map Nova Utopia, created 2010-2013, treats More’s island as if were a real place. It is a fictionalization of Utopia, shown now in the present day, 500 years on from when it was first written. The book of 1516 forms its backstory. Certain things that he described remain, like the traces of its 54 elegant towns spread evenly throughout. Its size is roughly the same and it has a prominent bay now named the Mouth of Feo, with its outcrops of rocks and a garrison tower. Many of its towns are now named after the nations exports that are mentioned in the book.
There were also many things in More’s text that annoyed me and that I felt were anachronisms that simply wouldn’t wash in todays Western World. He describes a stifling society. For example, any individual traveling beyond a 24 hours period even within the nation it self, could only be done so with a signed travel document agreed beforehand by the local Styward. Many would travel on group passports, all would be assigned hosts and the guests were required to help with the daily tasks of the allotted household. This was perhaps a direct mirroring of More’s own experiences with the Carthusian monks and the Catholic church of the time. The religious clergymen held absurd rights of the over the rest of the population – being only answerable to God. I would use these and some of its other flaws, to dismantle More’s society, imagining the island in a contemporary setting and after a Capitalist Revolution of 1900.
Whilst sifting through one of Peter Barber’s wonderful compendiums of maps looking for a ‘perfect’ shape for my island, Abraham Ortelius’ 1596 map of Utopia sprang out of the page like a jewel. Ortelius, one of the great historical cartographers of Antwerp provided the project with a pleasing symmetry. I would use the Ortelius map as my aesthetic template, mirroring its own shape and coastline.
In his version, Ortelius used a web of varying languages for his place-names many of which were geographical contradictions such as Iamais (French – meaning ‘never village’), Keinstad (German – meaning ‘no city’), or Andrus flu (Greek – meaning ‘river without water’). These again point to the fiction that lies at the very heart of such an idealised and imagined place. I remix this patterning here, using the dominant languages of my sphere – mainly English, Spanish and Latin, with a scattering of German, French, and Mandarin Chinese. I also construct a hybrid language for some of the island’s regional names.
From these two main sources, I go on to construct my version of Utopia and form a new history around these existing platforms. The following text comes in the form of a Visitor’s Guide with its history section in order to describe Nova Utopia. The period of 1500 – 1800 having been set by Thomas More’s book is followed by my own imaginings of how the nation has developed until the present day:
Nova Utopia is place of dreams! A large leisure island State about 200 miles across, defined by its isolation, its beauty and the immense diversity of its landscapes and resources. As a destination, Utopia sits somewhere between the wonderful, the beautiful, the entertaining, the rich, the sublime and the ridiculous. Despite recent environmental and social concerns, there’s a wonderful array of places to visit, and a tour of the island provides a fascinating insight into this unique and ever-changing country.
Little is known of ancient Utopia. Its early inhabitants left no written accounts; only their stone monuments and burial mounds remain. These fascinating sites are often aligned to major ‘ley’ lines that spread throughout the island, some of which are still followed today by sections of paths. These were probably trading routes. Key landmarks and summits acted as sighting points, while marker stones located major meeting areas and crossings. One of the most famous, The ‘Sacrum Line’ (Sacred Line), leads to a huge stone circle or henge built by the ‘Druids’: its origins and meaning remain a mystery. The majorities of these sites (some of which appear to be astronomically aligned) are located in the Sacrum region and are popular among ‘alternative’ tourists, who often walk the ancient routes.
Utopia: Traditional Period
According to local folklore, the ancient name for the island was ‘Navel of the Earth’, and later Sansculottia. After the Conquest of the traditional settlers in 244BC, it was named Utopia in honor of their leader – Father Utopos.
Built into the ancient philosophy of this period was the notion of a ‘mainland’, being nearby. In fact the island stands magnificent in its isolation, a beauty spot sitting on a huge body of water. Scholars now believe that the conception of a powerful landmass close at hand acted as ‘stabling block’ for island politics in fostering social cohesion, sedating competitive spirit within its own community, and sheltering the islanders from foreign influences.
The Transitional Years: 1500-1800
The famous traveller Raphael Nonsenso was the first to describe Utopia to the Western world in 1516. He continued to visit the island and espouse its culture for the rest of his life. He went on to describe Utopia as a healthy and prosperous country – living at one with itself and its environment. It was an egalitarian society built upon the principles of communalism, where the idea of the private ownership of land was essentially a cardinal sin. Utopia had no currency of its own and would only stock-pill foreign money, gained through its exports, for security reasons such as employing the mercenary Venalians to fights its own wars.
Everybody worked, labour was carefully rotated, goods and services evenly shared – no one went without or consumed too much. Citizens were encouraged to eat communally in their local halls, engage in regular physical exercise and education, and urged into consensual euthanasia. Its criminals were dealt with harshly through slavery and penal servitude, children respected their elders, and raw materials were judged on their intrinsic values. The population dressed simply, they would ridicule foreign obsessions with ‘rare’ and ‘precious’ metals and the idiotic concept of scarcity value. Whilst tolerant to all religions, the Utopian leadership, or intellectual elite, was made up of Stywards, Bencheaters, Bishops and Mayors. Life was strict and ordered – no free time was to be spent idly.
The rise of Capitalism: 1800 – present day
Over time, foreign influences increased as travel and trade routes extended across the globe. As stories of great men and powerful technologies began to permeate the Utopian imagination, the previously unchallenged authority at the grass roots level of the Bencheaters and Stywards began to decline. A growing wave of entrepreneurial aspiration emerged, which ultimately paved the way for revolution.
The Revolution of 1900
In 1851 a number of Utopian dignitaries including Diego Savo (then a young member of the Open Church) visited Europe and The Great Exhibition in London. The visit is considered a defining moment in Utopian history, ushering in calls for social change. A few decades later, public anger erupted following the 1890 Priesthood Scandal, when a spate of unpunished pedophilic crimes, committed by a section of the Priesthood against children in their care, came to light. Father Savo (by then head of the Open Church) promptly resigned as the ‘high father’, taking many of his priests with him to join the ‘Entrepreneurs’, a growing political force.
In calling for priests to be answerable to the law as well as God ‘The Parent’, Savo and his followers managed to separate themselves from the crimes of their old order. Meanwhile, some of those loyal to the old Priesthood joined the Utops (the hard line wing of the traditional system at the time) in the repression and occasional destruction of certain international publications, arranging book-burning demonstrations and the ostracism of those who promoted them. Many Utopians were excommunicated and large numbers of ‘free thinkers’ and ‘individualists’ were forced abroad. Still more were oppressed, intimidated and punished as dissenters at home, where violent skirmishes were commonplace. Advocating the right for talented individuals to better themselves through new aspirations and inventions, as well as their right to accumulate personal wealth and freedoms, the Entrepreneurs quickly emerged as a popular opposing faction, and by 1895 Utopia had become a divided nation.
The Entrepreneurs found their leader in Father Savo who, in 1899, joined forces with excommunicated Utopians and the mercenary Venalian Army to lead the country in Revolution. The Venalians were generally perceived as a ‘savage’ nation of fighters, but were often paid by the Utopian state for military support. Their allegiance with the Entrepreneurs, bought with the promise of payment from the national currency reserves, was a final nail in the coffin for the old system. The Utops, desperate to hold on to their old way of life, congregated in the region of Feo and the area surrounding Father Utopia’s home-place, which quickly became their stronghold. The Venalian forces led a failed invasion via the Mouth of Feo in 1899 but successfully landed in early 1900, in what is now called the Bay of Venalia on the edge of Cosmo and Flosris. The two sides fought the decisive battle on the fields of Feo where the Entrepreneurs crushed the Utops on 23rd April 1900.
Since The Revolution of 1900, the island was re-named Nova Utopia. The new century heralded the restructuring of society. The free town of Venalia was established in light of the mercenaries’ role. Small groups and individuals were encouraged to create their own Utopian projects away from the tight rules and regulations of the past.
The promotion of wellbeing, good child-care, gardening and farming, and religious openness all continued, but the wealth of the nation was to prosper alongside that of the individual. Citizens were permitted to own and inherit their own properties, and the island saw a sharp rise in immigration.
The country established it’s first currency, the de Niro, and Castillo Aire its capital city grew. Novi, as some now affectionately call it, quickly became a prosperous nation, an attractive place to do business. Mining and the exploitation of raw materials, the sale of land to foreign investors and the new wealthy citizens, and the development of the island as a ‘dream tourist destination’, all brought in new revenue. With Feo as its industrial region, confidence in ‘market philosophy’ and ‘consumer capitalism’ spread. The ideals of old Utopia had been irrevocably compromised. Private enterprise and land ownership paved the way to what the Entrepreneurs heralded as Nova Utopia’s ‘Golden Age’.
Nova Utopia today is one of the world’s must see tourist destinations, and is widely known as the ‘Leisure Island’. The diversity it offers is second to none, with a plethora of activities available, from the mass tourism of the Prora Coast to the small projects and communities scattered across the island.
Where to go
The Prora Coast
The Prora Coast offers great value package tours and is a Mecca for sun lovers, with fabulous beaches offering miles of unbroken sand. The popular region has seen massive development in recent years as millions flock to it. The coastline is littered with concrete apartment blocks that hug the beaches and cater for families and large groups. Many complexes provide in-house catering and entertainment. Fast food kiosks, bars, British-themed pubs and amusement arcades are common here, with El Dorado being a particular hotspot for drinkers and stag parties.
In recent years, concerns have been raised about the environment and overdevelopment: landslip warnings are in place in various locations, and the recent closure of the entire Prora Forest Park due to an unknown tree disease was a major blow. The authorities are tackling these problems, but some feel they have acted too late: the lost forest was considered the jewel in the region’s crown, and the once beautiful savannahs are now feared to be unsalvageable.
More adventurous travellers may want to steer clear of this province, but Prora offers a huge amount to do and see, and the laissez-faire attitude of its natives means the region has a fun loving atmosphere. Popular attractions include Walley World and Aqua Park that are great for the kids; the large nudist colony of Mar; Cera’s wax works factories; and the Prora Desert with its Jagged Pyramids, which offer both an Oasis resort, Caravan and 4×4 excursions. The old historical town of Mar is particularly interesting: it houses the Slavery Museum and maintains something of its old grandeur in comparison to newer towns like El Nadir.
The region of Activa is hugely popular with the young and sporty, and the area is a centre for water sports. The windswept beaches of Mustus and Activa are great for surfing, while the awesome Activa Lake is known for its activity holidays, skydiving and bungee jumping. The accommodation in the region tends to be low-key and relaxed.
Sapientia caters more for an elderly and retired clientele. Stannah, Cordurer and Gurning Bay provide sleepy retreats away from the hustle and bustle of Prora. The water tends to be colder than further down the coast but the region still has wonderful stretches of coastline, Tales Head being the most atmospheric.
The town of Margo is one of very few places on the island that maintains something of a traditional Utopian feel. Newcomers may find the food and the culture here bland, but it is a popular resort among natives. Those looking for a bit of authentic Utopia and holiday sun would do well to pay this town and its surrounding hamlets a visit.
For those interested in social history, the old industrial heartland of Feo is a fascinating region. Tours go to many of its manufacturing sites but several others are not mentioned in official brochures, so ask around. The Feos are fiercely proud of their heritage and claim the city of Novus Utopos – the birthplace and resting place of Father Utopos – to be the country’s legitimate capital. The founding Father’s epitaph column is as much of a shrine as it is a tourist attraction, and the grand old town is the spiritual centre of the region.
The province has been in steady decline for half a century, and many of its once grand coastal towns are now run down. In some areas, such as the dilapidated city of Sforzinda the maintenance of its amenities are in serious question and the surrounding towns struggle with social problems stemming from mass unemployment and low wages. However, those looking to get off the tourist track and meet the locals will find great conversation here: Feo’s inhabitants have warm hearts, a rich language, and are steeped in political and local knowledge – and they like a drink or two. Ironically, the low rents and relative social independence are beginning to attract artists and musicians, transforming pockets of the region into hip cultural locations. Gentrification may well be on its way.
In the Munus region the star attraction is the central city of Aircastle (Castillo Aire), which has long been Utopia’s capital and financial district. It has a vibrant centre and an active arts scene, and its charming museum and Latin quarters are perfect for short city breaks. The city is now far larger than any other in the country, but it’s best to stick to the central areas; the outskirts are generally tatty and of less historical or cultural interest.
Mosris is one of Utopia’s less populated counties and is ideal for those looking for a rural retreat, and fine dining. Its delightful coastal hamlets have a quintessentially traditional feel. Over-fishing in the past has led to extreme quotas, but the small fishing communities are just about kept alive as heritage industries and the region is still known for its great luxury seafood.
Holiday cottages are to be found everywhere in this shire and many fine farm houses and retreats are available inland. The old tradition of gardening prevails here: there are some splendid award-winning gardens to be seen along its Garden Route. Towards the top of Mosris is the island’s wine region, with many of its chateaus providing tasting tours for enthusiasts.
Much of this province is fiercely private in an attempt to maintain the landscape: you will not find any footpaths here, so pre-booking your visits and transport is strongly advised.
Mosris’ pleasant scenery is owing to its proximity to the spectacular region of Temor and the Maumturks mountain range. This wonderful landscape is popular all year round: vast resorts cater for skiers in the winter months and mountain walkers in the summer. Jasmundi National Park is considered the most beautiful park on Novi. It has the largest area of pristine forest in the country and is strongly connected to the Romantic Movement. Except for this park and the unspoiled territory of Eligere, many areas have been marked by human intervention; but it’s still hard not to be captivated by its wonderful scenery.
The small headland of Flosris is a haven for the world’s rich. Its secluded beaches, chic hilltop villas and luxury resorts are dream destinations for those who can afford them. The five star hotels and restaurants of Orondo and Sali are the places to be seen.
Cosmo is a diverse and occasionally controversial region, well known for its scientific research and for being the first province to set up institutions dubbed ‘centres for hope’. Euthanasia tourism has become the defining feature of the region for many people, but it also boasts a rich literary heritage and is widely considered to be the cultural capital of Novi. Rosot is a must see for all culture vultures, famous for its theatres, galleries and cosmopolitan café lifestyle, while the Bay of Venalia is a hotspot for gay tourism. The region’s tourist railway, which winds its way from Rosot to Venalia, is a popular attraction and the Nirvana Lake and Falls are magnificent, although high entrance fees have triggered widespread indignation, largely limiting access to the wealthy.
The private territory of Eligere occupies some of the island’s most luscious real estate. This principality charges astronomical local tax rates, but what these funds go towards remains something of a mystery. Visitor or staff passes are required to roam at all times: if you cannot present one when asked, you will be removed – the area has its own private police force. The notion of devolved mini-states such as this is becoming increasingly popular, and the multi-national Eligerians are keen to extend their borders, offering adjacent homeowners huge purchase sums for their properties.
Part of this territory borders the province of Sacrum, a famous refuge for alternative cultures in opposition to privatisation. Community projects promoting sustainable living are common, as are artistic and holistic retreats, farms and food groups. From the growing towers of Mirus to the Transition movement in Esilita, the region is proud to champion emerging cultures of Ecosophy.
The region is famous for its Green Footpaths, which offer free public access to an unrivalled variety of routes. These have proved extremely popular (they can be crowded on summer days) and have generated renewed public interest in the ancient stones that litter this part of the country. Although Cenit is its regional capital, Sacrum does not have any one particular point of focus. Beyond the Paths and ancient sites, the landscape is fairly sparse (the scant natural resources in the region were stripped long ago) but the new natives regard this as part of the area’s peculiar charm, and it is the perfect getaway for anybody tired of the island’s more mainstream tourist traps.
Whilst the privately operated rail network does cover the whole country, it is generally expensive and offers poor value for money. Once the pride of the nation, the system is in massive need of investment. Make sure you book in advance, as the price of purchasing on the day tickets can be extortionate. The best option for travel is by road, but bear in mind that the roads are congested; so allow plenty of time to get around. This is not helped by many of the holidaymakers and ‘part-timers’ on the island that choose to bring their own vehicles over on the long ferry journeys. The ownership of material products and the parading of these items is a national pastime; this most certainly includes cars.
Staying in touch
Communication is easy on the island, you will have no problem being connected: Wi-Fi is widely available in all establishments and most homes and resorts have Internet connection.
Money, Costs and the Economy
The local currency on Nova Utopia is the de Niro (D). It’s very easy to change and withdraw cash throughout the island, particularly in the larger towns, cities, and tourist sites, and all places accept major credit cards. Increasingly, everyday purchases are semi or fully automated: ATMs and self-service checkouts are commonplace. The fully staff-less Supersaver Deals Shopping Mall on the outskirts of Castillo Aire is the first of its kind in the world and offers the cheapest deals on the Island.
Known across the world as ‘Leisure Island’, Nova Utopia’s success as a tourist destination has completely changed its cultural and physical landscape. Before the revolution, Utopia was essentially self-sufficient, but today the country relies heavily on imported goods as increasing sections of its cultivated land is cleared to make way for tourist developments. Wealthy immigrants and second-home owners are flocking to the popular holiday areas, while traditionally industrial regions such as Feo are in decline.
Just about everything on Nova Utopia comes with a price tag. Be prepared to pay entry fees to the vast majority of attractions, book in advance; check the map for estimated prices and budget carefully before you visit.
Regional Culture and Politics
Regional distinctions in Nova Utopia have evolved organically over time, but have been accelerated in recent years by the government’s attempts to devolve legislation. The increasing geographical (and economic) separation of different areas has strengthened some local communities but reduced interaction between them. Many people now socialize primarily in like-minded groups and online, which has resulted in a declining sense of national identity as different regions and organisations compete rather than cooperate. People have started to use the Island as a place to set up their own ‘little utopia’s or ‘dolce utopias’ as they are known.
The government has had a rather aggressive policy of selling off land, normally to stakeholders of large companies in the expanding tourist industry. Virtually all of its land is now privately owned. This is a cause for concern in some provinces, especially Feo, where its proletarian natives have to bear the brunt of a system that inevitably has its winners and its losers. The region struggles with social and economic issues but retains a strong sense of local solidarity, refusing to become what the locals call ‘butlers to the world’s rich.’
A number of new political organisations have emerged on Nova Utopia in response to anti-capitalist feeling among the island’s citizens. Most notorious of these is Feo’s Utop Separatist movement, who argue that the morals that once kept old communities together have slowly dissipated, resulting in a more unequal society. They call for a return to self-organisation in the region, but as so few own their own land here this seems extremely unlikely.
There have been reports of growing political tensions on the island and a sharp rise in the number of demonstrations at certain sites: the annual demo outside the old house of Savo near Mellis has occasionally turned violent. Although tourists are not deemed to be at risk of attack, some caution is advised in hotspot areas: contrary to official statements, you can now expect a frosty exchange with some locals outside the resort complexes especially in and around Feo.
Beacons of hope and the Picnic Movement
The segmentation of much of Nova Utopian society has become a concern to many on the island in recent years. The effects of overpopulation, the Internet and the automation of daily life have compounded the decreasing levels of interaction and a wider national identity.
This has contributed to the surge of interest in Zocola days and Big Lunch projects. These community parties promote local interaction and creativity. The first events were held in the village of Esilita in Sacrum but they are now widespread, offering mainstream society a way of bypassing the commercial influence of Novi’s big Brands and Corporations.
One of the most interesting recent phenomena on the island is The Picnic Movement. Some of the only swathes of land left in public hands are the road networks. Picnic areas can be found on many of the lay-bys here and it is in these places where this curious movement has evolved. These ‘centers of focus’ are now areas where people organize meetings and families BBQ. Interactions of all kinds are nurtured here through a system of bartering, volunteering and cooperation. New subcultures have emerged through performances and gatherings free from monetary exchange and away from the commercial spaces of the motorway services stations.
A growing complex of ‘green footpaths’ are now linking these spaces with other farms and plots whose owners believe in free access, which in turn benefit from these exchanges. On these ‘Avenues of Hope’, the Picnic Movement is calling for a change of attitudes towards concerns over and focusing of financial worth and the commoditization of society. Its followers seek to combat apathy with social value, arguing for more cooperation and ‘getting-togethers’ in order to learn and promote new ways of living and new languages. ‘Relational’ issues and ‘social interstice’ are some of the buzzwords at the moment and as more people adopt their philosophy, be ready for changes on Nova Utopia. By their very nature the majority of these new gatherings and networks aren’t aggressively advertised and many of their online networks are privately guarded through a series of ever changing pass-codes – so get out there and ask.
The Picknic movement can be seen is a metaphor for grass-root projects, the Occupy Movement, the Burning Man festival in the US and perhaps at one stage Glastonbury. However, such movements can only really exist as sub-cultures, living on the margins or within the cracks of a much larger pervasive normality. The Picknic areas also evoke memories from my childhood holidays in seeing the road signs from the car window offering a bucolic sanctuary or rest-bite from the boredom of long journeys.
The Utopia presented here is a holiday destination, a ‘Leisure Island’ or perhaps an England in the sun. This one here is becoming a victim of its own success, selling its soul to mass tourism. All things including the natural surroundings have become commodities – price tags pop up everywhere. Nova Utopia has now developed into a collection of regions distinct from one another and a compendium of alternate forces. The small projects tend to attract only like-minded clientele and the tensions about overpopulation, the segmentation of society, and the automation of much of its daily life lies beneath the surface here under the guise of a pleasingly traditional and unifying aesthetic that cloaks a set of uncertainties and contradictions.
Polemic patterns have emerged on the island with the towns of Zenith and Nadir and the regions of Feo and Idilica found on opposing sides. Although it is a depiction of a wonderful place, the nation finds itself at a number of precarious tipping points. Other clues and historical references are buried in the map to be deciphered with a closer look.
This traditional aesthetic is an act that pre-empts the inevitable and out-dating nature of imagining the future today. New technological inventions will immediately blow outmoded concepts from the water, yet the fundamentals one could say, of the human spirit towards the question – stays the same. Like all Utopias in a finite World, it it’s a comment on the questions around the politics of space and what constitutes private and public land. It is a Utopia of the relations between separate entities where the map is the stage on which this balancing game is played.
also called squint, in architecture, any opening, usually oblique, cut through a wall or a pier in the chancel of a church to enable the congregation—in transepts or chapels, from which the altar would not otherwise be visible… – Britannica Encyclopedia, 2013
The original drawing sits inside the Hagioscope (or squint) frame. A set of wooden shutters fully encapsulates the work inside that can be viewed through the portal of a magnifying lense. The artwork inside is lit from behind the lens that can be moved across and over the entire picture frame with a handle. The entire work cannot be viewed as a whole; only what lies behind the lens at any one time can be seen.
In his 1932 essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ Walter Benjamin put forward the idea of Art’s traditional ‘aura’. He argued that hand-made, original artworks are inextricably linked to the rituals and traditions of their makers, and possess a sense of enchantment, which the viewer can internalize. By contrast, the reproduced image lacks this particular ‘aura’ but gains a new power, one that is dilated away from a singular vision. Its value is altered by its new accessibility – its ‘displayability’, communicating to a wider public in ways the original cannot. Here, the artwork inside is re-possessed with its ‘traditional aura’. It sits apart from its reproduction – a framed print viewed in its entirety.
This contraption flies in the face of the idea that Utopia is for every body; only one person can use the thing at a time. One cannot see the whole picture, so they concentrate on a series of local details, connections and memories in order to gage the wider picture. It points to the notion that Utopia can only ever be realized on a local or personal level rather than in the grander picture. The fabrication acts as a metaphor for how Utopias might be seen today.
The British Library website – http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/21cc/utopia/utopia.html
Robert Hughes, The Shock of The New, TV Series – The BBC, 1980. (Trouble in Utopia, 4/8).
Thomas, More, Utopia, (Translated by Paul Turner), Penguin, London, 1965.
Barber, Peter, The Map Book, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2005.
Thanks to Marcel van den Broecke (Cartographica Neerlandica, Bilthoven,
The Netherlands), the owner of the only existing Ortelius Map, for his research points referenced here. The matter is yet to be published.
23rd April is a reference to St Georges day, England’s National day which is very much forgotten by the majority the population.
Sforzinda – is a visionary ideal city named after Francesco Sforza, then Duke of Milan. It was designed by renaissance architect Antonio di Pietro Averlino, Aka. Filarete. (c. 1400 – 1469).
Walter, Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Penguin, London 2008. (First published in 1936).
[Bibliography and related reading specific to this text]:
Plato, The Republic, Jowett translation, Vintage Classics, London, 1991.
Thomas, More, Utopia, (Translated by Paul Turner), Penguin, London, 1965.
Walter, Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Penguin, London 2008. (First published in 1936).
Hughes, Robert, The Shock of the New, Thames & Hudson, London, 1991. (First published in 1980).
Robert, Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, Wordsworth Editions, Ware, Herefordshire, 1993. (First published in 1936).
Alfred, Watkins, The Old Straight Track, Abacus, London, 2004. (First published in 1925).
Peter, Barber, The Map Book, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2005.
Peter Barber and Tom Harper, Magnificent Maps, The British Library, London, 2010.
John Carey, The Faber Book of Utopias, Faber and Faber, London 1999.
George, Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Penguin, London, 2004. (First published in 1949).
Auldous, Huxley, Brave New World. Flamingo, London 1994. (First published in 1932).
George Orwell, Animal Farm, Penguin, London, 1987. (First published in 1945).
Simon Garfield, On the Map, Profile Books, London, 2012.
Nova Utopia, 2013. © Stephen Walter.
Courtesy of the artist and TAG Fine Arts, London.
Prints available at: www.tagfinearts.com
Special thanks to:
Jan Parmentier & The Museum aan de Stroom: MAS, Antwerp
Hobby Limon & TAG Fine Arts, London
Peter Barber & The British Library, London
Marcel van den Broecke – Cartographica Neerlandica, Bilthoven, (Ortelius map)
Edd Pearman & Coriander Studio, London
James Shearer – Other Fabrications, London
In honor of:
Thomas More (1478 – 1535)
Abraham Ortelius (1527 – 1598)
Robert Hughes (1938 – 2012)