Utopia School

Utopia School’s Faith

Based in Philadelphia, PA where they ran a collaborative art research center, residency program, and exhibition space from 1998-2011, BASEKAMP’s new, intentionally ambiguous identity is propelled by a group of loosely affiliated creatives looking at causes, effects, and the potential for undiscovered solutions. Their various efforts fall under the socially sensitive umbrella of Social Practice. They are collectively active, a unified think tank interested in exploring transdisciplinary objectives with a firm commitment to the allied authorial voice. BASEKAMP is not concerned with who initiates a project or idea, but rather how they can plug-in to each others’ efforts.They present a fairly straightforward set of ideals with no intended irony in their terminology: Organization Without Hierarchy, Attribution Without Ownership, and Value Without Capital. I can get behind that, I think. Sounds very anti-establishment, collectively refocused, and utopian, a collective activist thrust toward paradisal possibilities. They’ve also been careful not to use the word art much.

Utopia School, BASEKAMP’s collaborative multi-city project, uses an open-call system to explore failed and successful Utopian initiatives with eventual new solutions and a comprehensive database for research purposes as the ultimate goal. Projects connect specialists in various areas to generate and tackle urgent conversations. A spectrum of individuals: makers, builders, artists, theorists, writers, documentarians, researchers, archivists, learners, remote correspondents, on-site residents, support staff, etc. insure that each initiative, theory, historical instance, class, etc. is approached strategically and holistically. Proposals like What Happened to Partnership Societies, Performing Autonomy, Utopian Opportunism, Whack Utopias, What We Learned From our Parents: Generational Continuity in Alternative Living, plus another eight have made the cut and will be offered to the public as free classes, lectures, workshops, field trips and experimental research. Thirty-nine more wait in the wings. The latest review session recently took place in partnership with the Flux Factory in Long Island City, Queens, New York. You could show up with food platter in hand and be part of the potluck and conversation. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in one of New York’s five boroughs, Utopia School is happy to speak with you via Skype. Whether or not this still presents an exclusionary selection process is uncertain. Can the thrust of a proposal via Skype become diffuse through the often impersonal channels of the internet? Is Utopia connected?

A fundamental flaw with Utopia School’s curatorial approach is that it’s absolutely reliant on models Utopia School categorically opposes. The proposal process is crowd-sourced much like the fearsome landscape of open-markets. The strong will survive, their fate will be hierarchically decided upon, and the best will be recognized. I’m also curious when words like “we” and “our” and any other terms that allude to groups are used just who those groups include or exclude?

One of the central problems of socially engaged work is an inability to come to terms with or even define what is being sought. This to me is naïve and lazy optimism or pure and simple faith. Of course we all operate under similar auspices when we formulate goals, extend trust, hope for anything. Is the ultimate goal of a human-centric Utopia simply the perpetuation of our species? Underneath the crust of better existences is the presupposition that Existence is an intrinsic merit of humanity.

On a personal note, I can’t help but develop a bit of a smirk when thumbing through Utopia School’s website. It partially reads like the white-bread MTV generation’s fixation on revitalizing vapid 60’s era alternative lifestyles, but then maybe that’s just my dispassionate “that’s not gonna work” attitude emerging. I am not apathetic. In fact, I consider myself a crusader for a better world. I just happen to think that world might only be a reality without the people who define its reality – in other words, a human-less planet. No doomsday, no mass anything, just expiration. I’m suspicious.If the Boy Scouts taught me anything it’s that the Boy Scouts aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Does eliminating the individual in pursuit of a more democratizing cooperative or egalitarian voice really always produce the best good? Does it merely placate the willing and alienate those that don’t want to be elbow to elbow? Does it do both? Is it OK to be alone? Is there an origin for voice? I guess I wonder, does the very thing that makes art socially-engaged also disengage it from the true social or even the real?

This is what I think is vital about Utopia School: their willingness to crowd source uncertainty. They’re asking for shrugged shoulders and maybes. Instead of farts into the wind they’re asking for suggestions on how best to fart with the wind.

No one is immune and it’s OK. We understand. All I’m saying is that I would like to see a bit more reflective and thoughtful assessment of the actual mechanisms at play because there is meat in their intent.

There is a willingness to talk about fragility, futility, failure, and love.

There are 4 comments

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  1. Jaime

    Hey, this is Jaime, one of the organizers of the Utopia School writing. I just want to say that there are some inaccuracies in this article, two of which I will point out here, and others I will hopefully be able to address in more depth elsewhere.

    Firstly, Utopia School is not a Basekamp project. One of the collaborators/organizers of Utopia School has been involved with Basekamp for many years, but this is not ‘Basekamp’s Utopia School,” as the author of this article seems to suggest. Utopia School, is, rather, a bunch of autonomous individuals who are coming together to shape a school for studying utopian experiments, which will take place for the month of October, 2014 at the Queens-Based art collective, Flux Factory. If this project belongs under any collective brand, it is Flux Factory’s, as it will be our host space, they are providing the hard-won funds for the School’s project budget, and all of the residents of this live-in project will be participating in collective life there for the duration of the month.

    Secondly, all of our decision making is made as much as possible, by consensus (which is an odd proposition in an extremely fluid project, with participants availability always shifting.) An implication that only the “best” applications for the Utopia School are chosen, in a hierarchical way, is therefore not accurate. Consensus involves it’s own set of problems, and it’s own set of hidden power dynamics, but I do not feel that it is really accurate to paint our decision-making model as hierarchical, nor to compare it in any way with the “strong will survive” ethos of the open market.

    I have a lot more to say in response to this article, and hope it can generate a valuable conversation for people interested in alternative histories, ‘social practice,’ community organizing, etc.

  2. Sarrita Hunn

    Jaime: Thanks for your comment. I have to say that all the event announcements, etc. I have received about Utopia School have been through basekamp, so that relationship is confusing, at least from the outside, but thanks for your clarification. In general, I am very excited by the prospects of Utopia School but find the project a bit opaque from a distance so some further information, and conversation, is certainly welcome.

  3. Jaime

    Hi Sarrita: Opacity is one of the issues we’ve been grappling with in organizing the school and I’m actually quite grateful for the challenge that this critique and ensuing discussion (hopefully) poses for our project. I’ll continue these thoughts in a more formalized text, but for now wanted to at least chime in with that.

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