Jonestown, in Guyana, is a contemporary example of what would be classified as a utopian community.)
In a wave of successfully created "utopian" architecture, modern architects from Virilio to Le Corbusier, Louis I Kahn and Aldo Van Eyck, invented welcoming environments that transcended the "limitations of both the postmodern and hyper-modern stance and orthodox modernist architecture" (Coleman, p. 332).
Coleman, in his book Utopias and Architecture, claims that architects, particularly Le Corbusier, Kahn and Van Eyck challenged the assumptions of their current architectural discourse, building modern buildings that had welcoming environments and transcended popular limitations imposed on them. He states that the usefulness of utopias for thinking through problems in architecture provides the architect with a place from which to invent whole utopias. Yet the distance that a true utopia locates itself in encourages them to expand horizons for projects as nothing else could (p. 10).
Karl Mannheim said that Utopia is a concept that is the lifeblood of social imagination (p. 10) and Paul Ricoeur elaborated that Utopia is progressive, while ideology is conservative. Utopia can be constitutive, as well, with comprehensible patterns of social life and architecture as part of that pattern, allowing complex order within architecture with utopian character. From the primitive hut surrounded by an archaic garden, to the flying panels of contemporary glass shields (such as those on the new Avery Fisher Hall designed by Meier), the architect reaches into his or her imagination to recreate space in which a human can live life to the fullest.
Not only architecture, but poetry, philosophy, history, gardening and fine art have their place in the depiction of utopia, all of them creating artificial utopias for the human mind to live in. Matisse, Magritte and Dali imagine spaces where the spirit roams (or floats) free. In the imagination of a surreal artist, the world has enough elements, even in adverse times, that an artist can rearrange it and recreate it. The construction of utopias have thus been recreated by fine artists from all walks and cultures. The construction of philosophical, political and poetic utopias may occur separately or all together in an artist's repertoire.
In San Francisco a group of artists participating in the Capp Street Project have made a successful statement about utopias. Artists such as Paul McCarthy, Annika Strom, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio write books and explore themes of domesticity, architecture, the home and the body of an imagined resident in their exhibitions. The Capp Street Project was the first visual arts residency in the United States dedicated solely to the creation and presentation of new art installations. Since 1983, this project has provided a residence and exhibition space for the artists to live and create in. It has been so successful that it has been covered by (and been on the cover of) Artforum, and Artnews. Utilizing and reforming a space in whatever form they want, artists are given the time and space to create their own brand of the future.
In November of 2006 through March 2007, the Logan Galleries of the California College of the Arts in San Francisco presented an exhibition entitled How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later, featuring the work of Can Altay, Nate Boyce, Andreas Dalen, Rick Guidice, Jakob Kolding, Shaun O'Dell, Toby Paterson, Eileen Quinlan, Eva Rothschild, Katya Sander, William Scott, Solmaz Shahbazi, Bonnie Sherk, and Gitte Villesen. It was an exhibition of the futuristic imagination of these artists contrasting with visions of the future put forth in the mid-1970's. Utilizing the theme of an essay by the same title by Philip K. Dick, they compared "the speculative building of worlds by artists and writers to scenarios imagined and constructed by governments, corporations and the mass media" (Press) One of the projects was a garden of the future actually created beneath the Army Street freeway interchange in 1974. It also incorporated NASA plans for U.S. colonization of space with illustrations by Rick Guidice and other ideological narratives concerning the future of the world. During the 1970's idealism hit a peak and the United States felt that there was no star to far to reach, as this exhibit tells the viewers.
The artists who put up contemporary work in this exhibit, to contrast with those of the 1970s are not so different. Those who dreamed and drew up their dreams in the 1970's only have slightly different images. What is different is the sense of reality and possibility in the new utopias created by contemporary artists. Based on a new reality, artists today may dream on solid foundations of space flight, computer technology and quantum tunnels. It appears from some aspects that utopia is not so far away. Yet we are not happy and healthy and free from harm.
Perhaps websites provide the most visual representation of successful utopian societies existing today. Parodies and games provide unlimited exploration into the dreams and fantasies of the human mind in these far-out sites, and provide art and entertainment that tickle the fantasies. "Our consultants and engineers can help you turn your ideals into reality, without ever having to leave the comfort of your own soul or planet," promises www.utopiansocieties.com.Not only that, but it comes complete with (or without) a God of one's choosing.
Cuban artists currently have opened "Contemporary Art from Cuba: Irony and Survival on the Utopian Island" with a range of artists exhibiting from 24 to 39, at the ASA Museum at the University of Arizona, an art museum known for exhibiting work experimental in content, form or presentation. These artists show they are disillusioned with the socialist Revolution, yet they remain loyal Cubans.
Land artists, who create monumental sculptures, perhaps are those most successful in living out their utopian ideals in large scale, such as Michael Heizer, who has spent three decades creating a huge collection of truncated pyramids in the Nevada desert, Charles Ross, who has a subterranean Stonehenge for the space age in New Mexico and Christo, who has tried to wrap up the world like a present.
Installations that reflect the history of a place make up the new Utopian Revolutionary art, with artists collaborating with the people of a community to restate their own history, as the surroundings inspire them. These artists are sometimes called Post-Utopian Station artists, with the philosophy that does not bring in monetary, but historically valuable elements into the overall design. "Cutting-edge artists are now more likely to engage society rather than challenge it and, aside from a few controversy-courting show boaters, shy away from the spotlight rather than pursue rock-star status" (Neild 1)
Gathering the philosophy of past utopias, the art of the garden, the earth, pottery, painting and literature, artists feeling the wave of the Utopian Revolution are quieter, more in tune with the earth and its inhabitants. They are quietly working toward a new reality. This is the goal of the new Utopian Revolution, to create a harmonious and natural way to live with others.
Coleman, Nathaniel, 2005, Utopias and Architecture, Seattle, WA, Routledge.
Jasmine Hill Foundation. 2001. Jasmine Hill Gardens and Outdoor Museum, Montgomery, AL 36106.
Leach, Helen M. 1999, Intensification in the Pacific: A Critique of the Archaeological Criteria and Their Application. Current Anthropology, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Jun., 1999).