2001: Generations looked forward to this year as the dawn of an idyllic Future where we'd all have flying cars and antiseptically clean apartments, Jetsons style. That vision may have turned out to be just a sci-fi fantasy, but the artists and designers of CCAC's "Utopia Now!" keep that old-fashioned idealism alive as they go about fixing the problems of our world today -- one invention, and one intervention, at a time.
Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is among the most critically acclaimed of the featured artists. His preferred building material is the cardboard tube: strong, lightweight, fire retardant, water repellent, and recyclable. Made of glued-together tubes on a foundation of sand-filled beer cases, and easily built by just one or two people, Ban's Paper Log House served as temporary shelter for numerous victims of Japan's 1995 Kobe earthquake. The show includes a complete, full-scale example.
Artist-activist Michael Rakowitz also designs shelters, but for a different group of displaced people. He collaborated with homeless New Yorker Joe Heywood on the paraSITE, an inflatable sleeping-bag-like structure that attaches to a building's outer ventilation duct, warming its occupant with hot exhaust. Heywood personally spent three freezing winters in the unit on display in the gallery.
Maybe it doesn't seem so utopian to live in a cardboard house or a plastic bag. But gone forever are the days when we could imagine a world free from social and ethnic tensions, overflowing landfills, urban decay, and memories of failed utopian experiments. "The word 'utopia' has been pretty much thrown out of any kind of meaningful debate," observes CCAC Institute Director Ralph Rugoff. "People blamed it for a lot of the disasters of the 20th century. All the utopias we knew, from the Nazi utopia to the Soviet utopia, were globalizing visions where everyone was supposed to live in the same way. But your utopia may not be mine."
For the artists in this show, Rugoff continues, "It's more about how one specific situation might be improved in one way or another. Something like Shigeru Ban's Paper Log House is a direct response to a dire situation. It's an intervention that accepts the world the way it is right now." The Danish art and design collective Superflex has developed a "biogas" unit that converts cow dung into enough usable gas to run a household's lights and stove. Torolab's White Noise film documents the use of discarded rubber tires and garage doors in Tijuana's low-cost housing. And subversive Spanish architect Santiago Cirugeda looks for loopholes in municipal building codes, finding new ways for urbanites to transform their ordinary apartments into architectural experiments.
A free two-day "Utopia Now!" symposium will be held November 2-3 in CCAC's Nahl Hall, beginning Friday with a lecture by Mark Dery, and continuing on Saturday with panel discussions and artist presentations by Nils Norman and members of Crimson, Raketa, Torolab, and Superflex.