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Documents of Utopia

Documents of Utopia: The Politics of Experimental Documentary

Series: Nonfictions
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Documents of Utopia
    Book Description:

    This timely volume discusses the experimental documentary projects of some of the most significant artists working in the world today: Hito Steyerl, Joachim Koester, Tacita Dean, Matthew Buckingham, Zoe Leonard, Jean-Luc Moulène, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, and Anri Sala. Their films, videos, and photographic series address failed utopian experiments and counter-hegemonic social practices.

    This study illustrates the political significance of these artistic practices and critically contributes to the debate on the conditions of utopian thinking in late-capitalist society, arguing that contemporary artists' interest in the past is the result of a shift within the temporal organization of the utopian imagination from its futuristic pole toward remembrance. The book therefore provides one of the first critical examinations of the recent turn toward documentary in the field of contemporary art.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85077-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION Nostalgia: Pathological and Critical
    (pp. 1-22)

    Nostalgic memories are histories of the future. Even before I begin to explain that sentence, some readers may feel a nagging concern, for the very term ‘nostalgia’ is usually understood as the opposite of a positive future or utopia: while utopia is the projection of a better world into the future, nostalgia is a longing for something far away or long ago. Yet there are strong affinities between these two impulses. Like utopia, nostalgia conjures up the image of a society in which the problems that beset our current condition are transcended or resolved; and like utopia, nostalgia may have...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Ruins of Utopia
    (pp. 23-52)

    Is there any space, whether conceptual or practical, for thinking about utopia after the disasters of the twentieth century – a century that has given us two world wars, the military application of technology, the rise of totalitarian regimes, the Holocaust and the failure of the communist revolution? British-born, Berlin-based artist Tacita Dean’sBubble House(1999) both poses and represents one response to this question. Shot in pristine 16mm, this seven-minute-long film explores the eccentric form of a dilapidated and unfinished construction that the artist found on the coast of Cayman Brac, a Caribbean island. Named ‘Bubble House’ for its...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Reinventing Propaganda Films
    (pp. 53-86)

    ‘Nostalgia tells it like it wasn’t.’¹ So declared David Lowenthal in the late 1980s. This sentiment, he remarked, is a lopsided view of history whereby the past is imagined as a comfortable refuge and all its negative features are removed. A similar criticism is levelled against utopia: those who imagine perfect worlds ignore the lessons of history, which indicate that utopias are impossible dreams. As Lewis Mumford sombrely remarked: ‘History is the sternest critic of utopia.’² History provides us with countless examples of ideal political programmes that have never been realised, and, if they have been accomplished, these have become...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Archives of Commodities
    (pp. 87-122)

    Consider a gigantic installation of 412 photographs depicting used television sets, worn-out shoes, shop signs, storefronts, second-hand clothes and market stalls in Poland, Uganda, Cuba, Mexico, Palestine and Manhattan. Or, a sequence of 57 digital photographs of kitsch and colourful souvenirs, window mannequins, statuettes and pictures of celebrities taken in various shops across the world. Or, in a more pristine register, consider a series of well-crafted images of various mass-produced objects made by French workers on strike. However different in presentation, these photographic works –Analogue(1998–2009) by Zoe Leonard,Voyage of the Beagle(2007) by Rachel Harrison and...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Digital Utopia in the Post–Internet Age
    (pp. 123-160)

    ‘Try polite differentiation, coolness and refreshed nostalgia.’ So recommends Jaakko Pallasvuo’s fake instructional videoHow To / Internet(2011).¹ Offering career tips to would-be digital artists, the video shows an anonymous Internet user surfing through a myriad of garish webpages and YouTube animations while an exhilarating remix of TLC’s famous hit ‘Waterfalls’ can be heard in the background. ‘Binge on 90s Pop Culture and HTML5’, reads another of Pallasvuo’s ironic slides. The video is an entertaining satire of how the imitation of the graphic style of 1990s Internet websites has become a trite strategy in the field of digital art.²...

  9. EPILOGUE Utopia Now
    (pp. 161-164)

    Not long after being declared dead at the end of the twentieth century, utopia resurfaced in the guise of an archipelago in the map of the 2009 Tate Triennial. EntitledAltermodernand curated by prominent French critic Nicolas Bourriaud, the exhibition included several of the artists that have been examined in this book. Central toAltermodernwas the image of a cluster of islands. Can we view Bourriaud’s archipelago as a ‘no place’ reminiscent of More’s utopia? I would say ‘yes and no’. The altermodern recalls its sixteenth-century precedent insofar as it embodies difference. However, it departs from More’s Utopia...

    (pp. 165-178)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 179-184)