Theorising and Practising Concrete Utopia – ROCK Conference Bologna, 19 January 2017

Utopians from a wide range of disciplines gathered in Bologna for a day of workshops and talks.

Theorising and Practising Concrete Utopia – ROCK Conference  Bologna, 19 January 2017

On the 19 January 2017, ESR 12 Eleanor Drage and her supervisor, Rita Monticelli, expert in Utopian, Feminist and English Literature at the University of Bologna, joined Utopians from a wide range of disciplines, from architecture and engineering to literature, theatre and cinema as part of a day of workshops and talks organised by the ROCK Project. The first part of the day comprised of a series of short lectures. Monticelli spoke about radical utopias, presenting feminist literature as cultural ecology, with a particular focus on literary utopias of the 1960s and 70s. She discussed how these novels related to experimentation in collective living that took place during this period, including the various communes and feminist collectives which redesigned normative spaces so they could be inhabited differently. These spaces, both urban and textual, became symbols of resistance against discriminatory violence and segregation, with the intention of reconfiguring mental and social ‘landscapes’. They’re status as ‘concrete’ utopias lies in their demands, methods and visions for reflection and empowerment. Monticelli made reference to works of utopian science fiction by Joanna Russ, Marge Piercy, Ursula Le Guin, Sally Miller Gearhart, Octavia Butler, and Monique Wittig which helped redesign the ‘maps’ used by feminists, not just to propose alternative sociopolitical areas, but rebuild the whole social order.

Andrea Borsari, Professor of Architecture at the University of Bologna, suggested that we view the concrete utopia in terms of its latency—always ‘not yet’, just out of reach—rather than as a realisable or tangible blueprint for the future. He suggested that we “essere già del non ancora”—that we aim preemptively for what is not yet available to us—asking, “come entrare nella prospettiva?” [how do we enter into a new perspective?” The attempt to inhabit different temporalities at the same time is the “gioco di utopia” [the game of utopia], in which past, present, and future are renegotiated in order to seek out a new way of viewing the world. Talks also focused on the responsibility of utopian thinking to encourage and sustain diversity, transformation and collective action.

The second part of the day was made up of talks from representatives from architectural practices and collective action programs that help facilitate local communities to create their very own ‘concrete utopias’ in underdeveloped parts of the world. Martina Francesca spoke on behalf of Oasis Game, a “collective game which materialises dreams”, about a project she had worked on to enable a slum in Brazil to improve living conditions. Oasis Game’s methodology included appreciative observation, affect, dreaming, reflection, action, celebration and re-evolution. We also heard from Chiara Pussetti of the University of Lisbon about the dystopian, utopian and retrotopian aspects of the redevelopment of Lisbon’s Marvila district.

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